Asia in Review Archive 2020 (July- December)

China (People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

29 December 2020

China: Speculations about Beijing’s plan to tighten grip on Hong Kong leader election body

(dql) China’s central government is reportedly considering to reform the Election Committee that chooses Hong Kong’s chief executive and erase 117 Committee seats that are likely to be occupied by opposition district councilors. Critics view this potential change as the latest attempt of Beijing to increase its control over Hong Kong. [Asia Times]

The 1,200-member Election Committee comprises business elites, professionals, social leaders, lawmakers, delegates to the National People’s Congress (NPC) and members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), as well as a total of 117 seats to be elected by district councillors from among their members. The 117 seats are the result of opposition candidates’ landslide victory in the district council elections in November 2019 – once the stronghold of the pro-Beijing camp – in which they won 392 out of 452 seats.

The opposition camp holds more than 300 seats in the Election Committee, and with those 117 seats on the top of them, it would control a quarter of the votes and could have a powerful, kingmaker role in a two or three-horse chief executive race, scheduled for March 2022. [South China Morning Post

29 December 2020

China lowers age of criminal liability

(dql) China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the country’s top legislative body, has amended the country’s Criminal Law to lower the age of criminal liability from 14 to 12 years for some serious crimes including “intentional homicide or intentional injury that leads to death or causes others severe disabilities by extremely cruel means.” The law will enter into force on March 1, 2021. 

Under the current law, the age of criminal liability is 16, while children between 14 and 16 are held criminally responsible for crimes like rape, robbery and intentional homicide. 

The legislative move comes against the background of state media data, according to which crimes committed by those under 14 accounted for 20% of all juvenile crimes in 2017 — a hike of more than 12% compared to 2009, and in response to public outcry over lenient punishments for serious crimes, including a case of a 13-year-old boy who was sentenced to three years of correctional education for murdering a 10-year-old girl in October 2019. [Channel News Asia] [New York Post]


29 December 2020

China: Wuhan reporter jailed

(dql) An independent Chinese journalist who reported from Wuhan during the time when the coronavirus outbreak was at its height has been sentenced to four years in prison after a Shanghai court found her guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a generic term often used in China to target dissidents and human rights activists. Zhang is the first citizen journalist known to have been sentenced for her role in reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. 

Observers have raised concerns over a number of other independent reporters who have been detained or disappeared since the beginning of the pandemic, as part of the government’s restrictions on the coverage of the pandemic. [BBC] [CNN]

29 December 2020

China: Antitrust investigation against Alibaba launched

(dql) Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is facing an anti-trust probe over allegations of violations of rules against anti-competition practices. The State Administration for Market Regulation cited Alibaba’s so-called “choosing one from two” policy, in which merchants are forced to sell exclusively on Alibaba and skip competitors such as and Pinduoduo. 

At the same time, Alibaba’s affiliate Ant Group, which operates the popular Alipay e-wallet and works as an intermediary for financial services and customers, has been summoned by a group of finance and regulatory authorities to be questioned about its “compliance” work. In an earlier blow to Ant, it was forced in November by Chinese authorities to call off its gigantic 35 billion USD initial public offering.

These moves come amid the ongoing review of the draft of the “Guidelines for Anti-monopoly in the Platform Economy”, whose period of public consultation has been completed last month. They are widely seen as part of efforts of the Chinese state to reassert itself vis-à-vis  China’s internet giants, which have so far been allowed to expand more or less boundlessly. [Caixin] [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]


29 December 2020

China: Anti-food waste law on the way

(dql) The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the country’s top legislative body, is reviewing a draft law designed to tackle massive food waste in China.

Inter alia, the bill introduces penalties for food service operators which induce or mislead consumers to “order excessive meals and cause obvious waste.” Restaurants are allowed to charge patrons for excessive amounts of leftovers. Furthermore, the bill provides for penalties for a broadcaster – radio, TV, or online – which produces, publishes, or disseminates the promotion of food waste, including shows about excessive eating and drinking. Failing to heed a formal warning by government authorities will result in fines up to more than 15.000 USD and the suspension of business “for rectification”. 

The legislative move follows results presented by the China Academy Science according to which in 2015 residents in big cities wasted 17 to 18 million tons of food, equaling the amount to feed 30 to 50 million people. In an earlier move in summer, President Xi Jinping launched the so-called “Clean Plate Campaign” to call on the country to tackle “shocking and distressing” food waste. [The Guardian][Global Times] [AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]


29 December 2020

China to become world’s largest economy in 2028

(dql) According to findings of the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), released last week in its annual report, China will overtake the US to become the world’s biggest economy in 2028, five years earlier than previously estimated. The major factor for China’s rapid overtaking of the US are the contrasting recoveries of the two countries from the Covid-19 pandemic, the London-based think tank explained. 

China is predicted to achieve average economic growth of 5.7% a year until 2025 before slowing to annually 4.5% a year from 2026-2030. For the US, the CEBR  forecasts a strong post-pandemic rebound in 2021, after which the US growth in the following years would slow to 1.9% a year between 2022 and 2024, and then to 1.6% after that. 

China’s share of global GDP has increased from 3.6% in 2000 to 17.8% in 2019 and will continue to grow, the CEBR said. It would pass the per capita threshold of 12,536 USD to become a high-income country by 2023. [The Guardian] [Deutsche Welle]

Meanwhile, China’s Ministry of Commerce reiterated that – as part of the country’s “dual circulation” strategy – it will boost domestic consumption and the development of a strong domestic market in 2021 to step up “smooth internal circulation”. 

First laid out in May and endorsed in October in the five-year plan 2021-2025, the “dual circulation” strategy stresses the “internal circulation” cycle of production, distribution and consumption, supported by innovation and upgrades in the economy and aimed to reduce the country’s dependence on overseas markets and technology in the long term. At the same time, China will remain its open-door policy to the world “on a wider scope and deeper level.” [Reuters][East Asia Forum]

29 December 2020

Laos and China vow to deepen ties 

(dql) In a phone talk General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping and General Secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Bounnhang Vorachith, the former pledged to “open up a new stage and write a new chapter for the relations between the two parties and the two countries in the new era,” based on their joint commitment to “building China-Laos community with a shared future”. Xi highlighted the successful poverty-reduction cooperation as highlight of China-Laos relations in the recent past years, as well as the joint efforts in fighting the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters. 

Bounnhang, meanwhile, reassured his counterpart of his country’s willingness to cooperate with China to further advance practical cooperation in all sectors under the Belt and Road initiative, and to enhance greater development of Laos-China relations. [Xinhua] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

29 December 2020

China seeks additional guarantees from Pakistan for new $6 billion loan

(lm) Citing Pakistan’s weakening financial position [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3], China has sought additional guarantees before sanctioning a $6 billion loan for the construction of the Mainline-1 (ML-1) project. Beijing also proposed a mix of commercial and concessional loan, notwithstanding Islamabad’s desire to secure the cheapest lending. [The Express Tribune]

The single-largest project to date under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, ML-1 involves upgrading and track-doubling railway lines in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor. In August, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) had approved the strategically important $6.8 billion upgrade of railway infrastructure in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Islamabad then decided in November to seek an initial $2.7 billion loan from Beijing for the construction of package-I of the ML-1 project. [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]

In light of the strategic importance of the project, Pakistan had expected China to provide up to 90 percent the of financing, further assuming that Beijing was ready to accept a 20 years repayment period, subject to the condition that the grace period should be 10 years. However, China has offered to finance only 85 percent of the project cost, with a payback period of 15 to 20 years in biannual tranches. [Economic Times]

29 December 2020

China sends senior official, amidst crisis of ruling Nepal Communist Party

(lm) In a first diplomatic step since the dissolution of Nepal’s lower house of parliament, China on December 27 dispatched a four-member delegation led by a vice minister of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to Kathmandu. During his four-day visit, the delegation is scheduled to meet Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and President Bidya Devi Bhandari, among others. [The Kathmandu Post] [The Straits Times]

The trip comes on heels of a series of meetings held by China’s ambassador to Kathmandu with Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari and top leaders of the NCP, including Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal. The Chinese envoy is known to be active during times of crisis in Nepali politics, showcasing deep interest in the internal dynamics of the NCP [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1AiR No. 18, May/2020, 1]. [The Himalayan Times]

Coming as it does at a time when the NCP is undergoing a vertical split, the visit of the Chinese delegation is likely not confined to assessing the ground situation. In this context, it is worth noting that the high-ranking official is known to enjoy considerable influence with NCP leaders. This is largely because he played a major role in bringing together the Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) and the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) (CPN-MC) in 2018 to form the NCP [see AiR (4/2/2018)]. [The Diplomat]

29 December 2020

India, Vietnam strengthen defense ties, undertake PASSEX exercise in South China Sea

(lm) Taking place against China’s growing assertiveness in the region, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc co-hosted a virtual summit on December 21, signing seven agreements in areas ranging from defense to petrochemical and renewable energy research, and calling for a peaceful, “open and rules-based” Indo-Pacific. India also handed over one of 12 high-speed patrol boats being made for Vietnam under a $100 million line of credit. [South China Morning Post]

In the same vein as a Vietnam-Japan summit held earlier this year [AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3], the India-Vietnam summit stressed the importance of ensuring maritime safety and security in the South China Sea as well as peaceful dispute settlement and the adherence to international law. Regarding the latter the joint statement referred to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and the aspired Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). [The Diplomat]

The summit marked the culmination of a series of high-level exchanges between the two sides throughout this year, including a visit by Vietnam’s vice-president to New Delhi, a phone conversation between the two prime ministers in April to discuss the COVID-19 situation, and an earlier online meeting in November on the sideline of the 37th ASEAN Summit [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3].

Separately, an Indian warship reached Ho Chi Minh City on December 24, delivering humanitarian relief supplies for people affected by floods in central Vietnam under New Delhi’s Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) III mission. What is more, the visit is also aimed at enhancing maritime cooperation between the two countries, as the warship will be partaking in a Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with the Vietnam People’s Navy in South China Sea, to be held between December 26 and 27. [Hindustan Times] [WION]

29 December 2020

Cross-strait relations: Taipei and Beijing cooperate in battling illegal Chinese sand dredgers

(nm) Taiwan and China have worked out cooperation with regard to over 100 Chinese ships illegally dredging sand near Taiwan’s outlying island of Matsu. Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) has called the dredging an illegal form of profit-seeking which, however, was not politically motivated. According to the CGA, China and Taiwan have developed a standard operating procedure, pursuant to which Taiwan can call the Chinese side to act if the problem occurs again.  [Taiwan News]

29 December 2020

Cross-strait: Taiwan seeking to strengthen enforcement of regulating China-affiliated publications

(nm) Taiwan’sMinistry of Culture (MOC) announced plans to revise the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area to stricter regulated publications by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as well as by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) before they can enter the Taiwanese market. Publications by private individuals or associations in China, however, would not be subject to the planned amendment.

In response to concerns of censorship, Taiwanese Culture Minister Lee Yung-te labelled CCP and PLA publications “propaganda materials, not books,” adding that “[i]f a country, faced with the invasion of an unfriendly country, does not build fortifications to defend itself, I doubt what its government is doing.” The MOC will consult with members of Taiwan’s publishing associations and industry players as soon as possible to discuss the proposed revision. 

The debate over the amendment comes after the children’s book Waiting for Dad to Come Home, which was originally published in China and is said to glorify China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was barred from distribution earlier this month after it was revealed that its publisher failed to apply for approval by the MOC. [Focus Taiwan] [The News Lens]

29 December 2020

China-Sweden relations: Huawei excluded from 5G rollout after court ruling

(dql) Sweden will go ahead building its 5G network without the Chinese telecoms company Huawei after an appeals court upheld an October decision to block the Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from its networks over national security concerns. The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) announced on Friday it would resume its next-generation telecoms auctions next month. [Scandasia]

29 December 2020

China-EU relations: Investment pact set to be concluded within this year after Beijing commits to labor rights

(dql) The European Commission announced that the EU and China are set to conclude a long-delayed investment agreement this week after China made fresh commitments on labor rights, clearing the last stumbling block in the negotiations. France threatened last week to block the deal over this issue. [France 24] [AA]

Observers see the impending EU-China accord as a possible setback for incoming US President Joe Biden’s efforts to “build coalitions of like-minded partners and allies that make common cause with us in defence of our shared interests and our shared values,” to be in a much “stronger positions” to confront China, as he said on Monday in a speech after his briefing with national security and foreign policy agency review team members. [Politico] [Business Standard]

29 December 2020

China-Turkey relations: Chinese legislature ratifies extradition treaty

(dql) China’s National People’s Congress, the country’s legislature, last weekend ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey, that was signed in 2017 and that is widely believed among observers to be used by China to speed up the return of refugees and Muslim Uighurs Beijing holds responsible for “terrorism”.

The Turkish government, meanwhile, is facing strong opposition within its parliament and has not yet ratified the deal, with critics urging it to withdraw from the agreement to prevent it from “becoming an instrument of persecution”. [France 24]

Ankara has long been one of the main defenders of the Uighurs on the international stage. However, over the past years, Ankara has grown closer to Beijing, and provided its assistance in apprehending or interrogating Uighurs accused by Chinese authorities of terrorism. And while Turkey has not sent Uighurs to China directly, it has been accused of sending them to third countries where extradition to China is easier. [The Guardian]

29 December 2020

China criticizes Canada for rejecting Chinese takeover of Canadian mining firm 

(dql) China has accused Canada of politicizing “normal economic cooperation” between the two countries under pretext of national security, after Vancouver rejected the proposed takeover of Toronto-based TMAC Resources Inc. by China’s Shandong Gold Mining Co. Ltd., citing national security concerns.

The case adds to already strained Chinese-Canadian relations. Bilateral relations have been fraught since Canada arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Dezember 2018 at the request of the United States, in response to which China arrested Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have remained in prison for two years.

Earlier last week, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan in an interview reiterated that Canada looks at “China’s expansion into other parts of the world right now as a concern, based on how they’re dealing with smaller nations in terms of how they provide the support that has created this economic kind of dependency.” He added that – in support of diplomacy – Canada’s and its allies’ military must always be “prepared send a strong message of deterrence.” [Global News] [National Post] [CTV News]

29 December 2020

China-Australia relations: Australian goods blocked 

(dql) Data of the Chinese Office of Trade reveal Beijing’s continued hardened stance against Australia. According to latest customs data, almost 9.000 liters of Australian craft beer were blocked from entering the country at one Chinese port last month due to incorrect labelling. Furthermore, another 8.000 kg of frozen beef from a now suspended Australian abattoir was detained in Shanghai over mismatched certification.

In line with the current strained relations between China and Australia, Chinese customs authorities are now seen to be less likely to overlook Australia’s shipment errors than before and have moved quickly to punish mistakes. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, the World Trade Organization last week confirmed the launch of Australia’s dispute with China over the latter’s tariffs on Australian barley. Canberra earlier this month filed the complaint against Beijing’s imposition of total tariff of 80.5% on Australia’s barley exports in May. [Yahoo News]


29 December 2020

Chinese-Russia joint aerial strategic patrol set to become yearly routine

(dql) In a latest sign of a deepening military partnership between China and Russia, the Defense Ministers of both countries confirmed in a joint announcement that last week a joint aerial strategic patrol was held over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea in which China sent four nuclear-capable H-6K strategic bombers “to form a joint formation” with two of Russia’s famous Tu-95 bombers. They added that the patrol was “part of an annual military cooperation plan” between the two countries. [Asia Times]

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone talk with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reassured that the relationship between China and Russia “has strong endogenous driving force and independent value, not to be impacted by fluctuations in the international setting or and by any factor of interference.” The statement sends a strong signal to the US that the relations between the two countries will be further elevated, no matter what policies the incoming US administration of Joe Biden will adopt. [Xinhua, in Chinese] [South China Morning Post]

29 December 2020

China-US trade relations: US military end user list includes nearly 60 Chinese firms, Trump strengthens directive on blacklisted of Chinese securities

(dql) Citing the need to prevent US civil aviation products from being diverted for military use, the US Department of Commerce (DOC) last week released a new Military End User (MEU) list requiring export licenses for exports, re-exports, and in-country transfers of equipment and technology. The list of a “first tranche” covers 103 foreign entities, including 58 in China (and 45 in Russia), with most of them in the aerospace industry. [AIN Online]

Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Monday bolstered an executive order, which bars US investors from purchasing securities of Chinese companies considered being controlled by the Chinese military, by defining the scope of US investors and the prohibited assets, including “all transactions by ‘US persons’ including individuals, institutional investors, pension funds, university endowments, banks, bond issuers, venture capital firms, private equity firms, index firms, and other US entities, including those operating overseas.” The move cleared disagreement among US agencies about how tough to make the directive, released in November. [CNBC] [South China Morning Post]

22 December 2020

China to build high-tech wall along its border to Myanmar

(nd) China is building a high-tech wall, fitted with high-voltage fences, surveillance cameras and infrared sensors along its 2,227-kilometer border with Myanmar. While officially supposed to contain the spread of Covid-19, observers contemplate also other reasons for the effort, which is rather convincing as the wall shall be finished only by October 2022.

This includes the goal to prevent Chinese dissidents from fleeing China, to contain cross-border trade of illegal items, to just display a show of power towards the neighbor. Most likely also according to a thorough analysis by Bertil Lintner in the [Asia Times], the security wall is, however, supposed to prevent the infiltration of hostile forces from Myanmar to China.

Notably, most of both countries’ border is controlled by ethnic armed groups. Some of them – the United Wa State Army (UWSA) or the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) for instance – have close relations with China’s security agencies. Others, however, especially in the Christian Kachin state, are, however, suspected by China to be used against Beijing’s security interests.

A recent unsigned article on the Chinese nationalistic website Toutiao just referred again to the traditional ties of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) with the US and its security agencies most notably the CIA. Against this background, the Chinese author claims that Kachins in Myanmar have “continuously conducted intelligence operations in China and secretly recruited troops and cadres from the Jingpo ethnic group in China.” [Asia Times]

22 December 2020

Malaysia, China to send new ambassador

(nd) China’s new ambassador to Malaysia is expected by some analysts to engage with the Malaysian stake in the South China Sea dispute, an issue he seems to be thoroughly experienced in after having served in the boundary and ocean affairs department during China’s dispute with the Philippines which was concluded by the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016. Malaysia claims the seabed and waters extending 200 nautical miles from its coast, which is objected by China on the basis of the 2016 invalidated nine-dash-line, which stretches 2,000 km from the Chinese mainland and reaches waters close to Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. In September 2019, Malaysia and China agreed already to set up a bilateral consultation mechanism on maritime affairs.

The new Chinese ambassador is also expected to work both countries’ economic cooperation with regard of Belt and Road Initiative projects in Malaysia, including the US$11 billion East Coast Rail Link. China was the primary destination for Malaysian goods in 2019, with a value of 140.9 billion ringgit (US$34.85 billion), making up 14.2 per cent of Malaysia’s overall exports. [South China Morning Post]


22 December 2020

ASEAN and the South China Sea in 2021

(nd) Against the background of ongoing tensions and significant developments in and regarding the South China Sea over 2020, a recent article in the [East Asia Forum] by Sourabh Gupta argues for an increased potential for ASEAN to play a more meaningful role in the conflict.

22 December 2020

Cambodia, China relations possibly shifting

(nd) The Cambodian government has just ordered its first batch of Covid-19 vaccine and it is not coming from China but the UN-backed COVAX vaccine facility which can be read as a move away from China in the vaccination game. Meanwhile, China’s Sinovac vaccines were already delivered to Indonesia which, different from Cambodia, is not particularly close to China at all. Adding to the significance of Phnom Penh’s decision to not deal with China this time are remarks of Prime Minister Hun Sen, saying Cambodia was not a Chinese “dustbin” for vaccine trials.

A readable [Asia Times] piece contemplates on the possible background story and the question if a more neutralist Cambodian foreign policy looms which, however, might still seems too early to early to judge. In any case, there have already been dialectical counter-movements to the increasing Chinese influence in the country which culminated in last October’s first bilateral trade pact between Cambodia and China. Negotiated in a remarkably short span of less than a year, it leans heavily in favor of China, which has enjoyed a large trade surplus and is accompanied by increasing discontent with Chinese investments. Critics claim that Chinese firms would only hire Chinese workers, engage in land grabs, and bring Chinese organized crime to Cambodia with Sihanoukville being the most prominent example.

See also the last week’s Asia in Review for the Cambodian governments attempt to regain at least some control over the city which many saw already as turning into a Chinese “colony”. [AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3]

All irritations notwithstanding, will a revitalized Cambodian tourism industry after its pandemic freeze heavily rely on Chinese tourists while China became the country’s largest trading partner in 2019, with bilateral trade worth US$8.53 billion back then. [Asia Times]

22 December 2020

United States Congress denounces China’s ‘aggression’, calls territorial claims against India ‘baseless’

(lm) The US House of Representatives and the Senate on Tuesday passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included a section introduced by an Indian-American Congressman that urges the Chinese government to end its military aggression against India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). [South Asia Monitor] [India Today]

Expressing ‘significant concern’ over the continued military aggression by China along the LAC, the NDAA remarks that Beijing ‘should work with’ India toward de-escalating the situation along the Line of Actual Control through existing diplomatic mechanisms and refrain from attempting to settle disputes through coercion or force’. [The Hindu]

Earlier this month, the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC in its report to the US Congress suggested that Beijing might have planned to escalate tensions in June [see AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3], potentially even planning for the possibility for fatalities. [USCC]

22 December 2020

Chinese and Russian warplanes enter South Korea’s air defence identification zone, fly over Sea of Japan

(dql) South Korea scrambled fighter jets in response to an intrusion into its air defence identification zone by 15 Russian and four Chinese warplanes, in what appears to be a joint military drill between Beijing and Moscow. [Yonhap]

Meanwhile, six Russian and Chinese strategic bombers on Tuesday flew over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighters against the bombers. [Kyodo News]

22 December 2020

China-EU investment pact in sight?

(dql) Following a meeting with 27 EU ambassadors in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced that Beijing and Brussels are likely to wrap up their comprehensive investment agreement. On the EU side, the European Commission last week reportedly made “a political decision in principle” to take the deal following Beijing’s offer of additional concessions on equal access for European firms in the Chinese market.

These latest developments have raised hopes for its conclusion within 2020, after seven years of negotiations. 

However, the issue of forced labor in Xinjiang seems to remain the stumbling block, with EU officials voicing doubts that it would be politically possible for the European Parliament to approve the agreement if China sticks to its refusal to ratify the International Labour Organizations Standards on Forced Labour. China, however, insists that “[t]here is no such thing as force labor in Xinjiang,” calling such claims “slanders and smears” against China. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2

22 December 2020

China-Australia relations: Beijing delays trial suspected Australian spy

(dql) The trial of Chinese-born Australian writer Yang Hengjun over charges of espionage has been delayed by three months, according to a source close to him. Yang, a former Chinese spy before becoming a democracy advocate and writer of spy novels published in Taiwan, was arrested in Beijing in January 2019 and formally charged in October this year. In over 300 rounds of interrogation, he has refused to confess, causing major problems for China’s confession-based legal system. [The Guardian] [Brisbane Times

22 December 2020

China-US relations: Washington sends stitches against Beijing at various fronts

(dql/nm) Last week, the US Congress approved a bill demanding Beijing grant Washington a US consulate in Tibet and paving the way for sanctions against Chinese officials who interfere in the succession of the Dalai Lama. 

China insists that it has the right to approve the Dalai Lama’s successor, which critics view as an attempt to control Tibet which has been controlled by China after its troops entered the region in 1950, in what Beijing calls a “peaceful liberation”. Following a failed uprising against China’s rule, the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959. [South China Morning Post] [U.S. News]

At the trade front, the US Department of Commerce added to its blacklist over 60 Chinese companies it says are complicit in human rights violations, China’s military build-up in the South China Sea and intellectual property theft. Listed companies are severely limited in doing business with US firms. Among the targeted companies are Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), China’s top chipmaker, and Shenzhen DJI Sciences and Technologies Ltd., the world’s biggest drone manufacturer. The move is the latest effort of the Trump administration to cement a tough-on-China legacy for the incoming Biden administration. [Deutsche Welle]

In a related move, US President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that bars securities of foreign companies from being listed on any US exchange unless they comply with the US Public Accounting Oversight Board’s audits for three years in a row. While the law applies to any foreign companies, it is widely believed to target Chinese firms as it requires public companies to disclose whether they are owned or controlled by a foreign government. [Forbes]

Furthermore, the US is issuing new prohibitions barring utilities supplying military bases and other critical defense facilities from using Chinese high-voltage transformers and other so-called bulk power equipment, according to US Department of Energy sources which cited the need to protect the facilities from foreign adversaries. Among the firms named as a particular threat to American power grid is Huawei. [Bloomberg]

Pertaining to Taiwan, the US destroyer USS Mustin sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday, making it the 12thwarship of the US Navy to conduct such a passage in this year. A day later China’s aircraft carrier Shandong transited through the Strait, its second transit after the first one in December 2019. [9 News] [Focus Taiwan]

The new US maritime strategy paper of the US Navy, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard, titled “Advantage at Sea”, meanwhile, identifies China and Russia as “the two most significant threats to this era of global peace and prosperity,” while highlighting that it is Beijing among them which “represents the most comprehensive threat to the United States, our allies, and all nations supporting a free and open system,” given its “growing economic and military strength, increasing aggressiveness, and demonstrated intent to dominate its regional waters and remake the international order in its favor.” The paper calls for strengthening US alliances and partnerships to “operate more assertively to prevail in day-to-day competition,” warning in particular against maritime activities below the threshold of war and “incremental gains,” that translate into “long-term advantages.” [, USA]

In a latest development, US Secretary of State on Monday announced the US imposed additional visa restrictions targeting Chinese officials held responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses. [Reuters]

22 December 2020

China set to introduce personal data protection law

(dql) Following the end of the period of soliciting public opinions on the draft Personal Information Protection Law released a month ago, China’s Legislative Affairs Commission, the country’s top legal advisory agency, presented further details on the draft law which resembles the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Under the draft law sensitive data include information about race, ethnicity, religious belief, personal biological characteristics, medical health, financial accounts, and personal whereabouts, making the scope much wider than that in the GDPR. Under this definition, location information, mobile number, bank account, financial transaction data, etc. are all considered as sensitive personal information. The new law would allow for fines for data privacy violations up to 7.6 million USD or 5% of a firm’s annual revenue, applying also to entities outside the country using information about individuals in China.

Furthermore, the government would be required to justify any use of sensitive data. The use must be proportional to the task at hand, meaning sensitive information must be “used for specific purposes and only when sufficiently necessary,” according to the Commission’s spokesman. 

While generally regarded as a big step forward in China’s legislative efforts to create a set of central and comprehensive regulations on the protection of personal information, observers raise concerns over the vague formulation “sufficiently necessary,” suggesting insufficient restrictions on the government and allowing it to retain the ability to use sensitive data at its own discretion. [South China Morning Post] [Find Biometrics]

For insights in China’s accelerated efforts in recent years to establish a data governance regime, see Xiao Liu at [The Diplomat].

22 December 2020

China: Regime critics detained, set to be on trial

(dql) Chinese journalist and documentary film maker Du Bin has been detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Du is known for his party- and government-critical work, including – among others – a book on the Tiananmen crackdown 1989 and on the blockage of Communist troops of the northeastern city Changchun in 1948 to starve out Nationalist soldiers, leading to the deaths of at least 160,000 civilians, as well as a documentary of a Chinese forced labor camp. [China Digital Times]

In a second case, dissident poet Wang Zang, arrested in May and indicted in July, will soon stand trial over charges on “subversion against the state,” according to his lawyer. In his poems and articles as well as in interviews with foreign media Wang has repeatedly criticize the government’s repressive rule. He also openly voiced support for Hong Kong’s democratic movement. “Subversion against the state,” an umbrella term often used to suppress freedom of speech, is punishable with up to life imprisonment. [South China Morning Post] [Asia News]

For an account of major efforts and steps taken by President Xi Jinping’s since assuming power in 2012 to strengthen and cement discipline and resilience of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to avoid the Soviet communist party’s fate and to create a “political climate where no Gorbachev — the architect of Soviet demise in Xi’s eyes — would ever be permitted to rise to power,” see Jude Blanchette at [East Asia Forum].

22 December 2020

China/Hong Kong: Prominent democracy activist applies for asylum in Britain

(dql) Nathan Law, a leading figure of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and founding member of the now dissolved pro-democracy party Demosisto, revealed that he has applied for asylum in the United Kingdom, after fleeing in the wake of China’s new security legislation for Hong Kong which according to him grants the government “sweeping powers to prosecute political dissidents in Hong Kong for speech crimes”. [The Guardian]

In an earlier development, Joshua Wong, another prominent democracy activist, was sentenced last month to thirteen and a half months in prison for participating in an unauthorized public gathering in June 2019. [AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2]

22 December 2020

China/ Hong Kong: City top court upholds mask ban at protests

(dql) In a blow to pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, the Court of Final Appeal, the city’s highest court, has ruled that the city government’s decision to ban face masks at protests last year is constitutional.

At the height of the anti-government protests in October last year, during which many protesters hid their identities behind facial masks, the Lam administration invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO) of 1922 to impose a mask ban during both authorized and un-authorized public gatherings. In response, opposition lawmakers challenged the constitutionality of the statute in the court, triggering a year-long legal battle. 

The court found that government’s banning of face masks at both permitted and illegal protests was a proportionate measure as it was aimed at “the prevention and deterrence of violence before a peaceful public gathering had deteriorated into violence.” [Aljazeera] [Deutsche Welle]

15 December 2020

Myanmar, US to blacklist Chinese investor in “industrial zone”

(nd) The US added Chinese 14K triad leader Wan Kuok Koi aka “Broken Tooth”, to its sanctioned list of “corrupt actors”. 

Wan, who was arrested in 1999 over his involvement in 14 murders in Macau, is a leading representative of the 14K Triad group which globally engages in organized crime with its estimated 20,000 members including drug trafficking, illegal gambling, racketeering, human trafficking and murder, in particular also in Southeast Asia. The US also added three entities owned or controlled by Wan in Cambodia, Hong Kong and Palau to the list. After Wan and similar Chinese business-crime networks were very active in Cambodia in recent years, they are now expanding in particular in Myanmar after Cambodia’s Sihanoukville became less “investment friendly” to them.

Three years ago, Chinese and Cambodian police began cracking down on Chinese firms behind internet wagering, illegal casinos, gang violence and money laundering in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville. There, the Chinese investment and in particular illegal gambling fueled a massive property bubble and pushed local population and business in a gradual Sinification out of the city. Moreover, the money laundering enterprises blossoming there, contributed to Cambodia’s increasing difficulties to get access to international finance. Growing lawlessness finally led the Cambodian government ask for Beijing’s help to rectify the situation leading to a crackdown which then prompted the affected Chinese networks to look for alternatives. Concerted efforts under the label “Saixigang Industrial Zone”, which translates roughly as “Surpass Sihanoukville”, led to huge investment projects in Myanmar’s border region to Thailand with Wan launching a part project in March this year in Kuala Lumpur in a splendid ceremony. Now, Chinese firms are building huge enclaves in Karen State along the banks of the Moei River that separates southeastern Myanmar from Thailand. There, three new cities are emerging on the lands of Burma’s ethnic Karen which were devastated by heavy combat between Myanmar’s army and Karen nationalists not long ago. After reportedly partnering up with the local rebel groups, the Chinese investors created hotels, casinos and condos in unauthorized “special economic zones”, while leaders as Wan branded the project as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative and even advertised the building of smart cities.  

According to the US Treasury Department Wan’s World Hongmen History and Culture Association – established in 2018 in Cambodia and linked to the global Hongmen fraternal organization and secret society established in the mid-1600s – is running a powerful business network active in the development and launching of cryptocurrencies, real estate and operating a security company specializing in protecting BRI investments.

The recent US blacklisting is highlighting the ever-developing nexus of shady investments, organized crime, political violence and geopolitics as it has been flourishing in mainland Southeast Asia since the end of World War II, when strongmen like Thailand’s police chief Phao cooperated with the CIA to operate in neighboring countries with anti-communist rebel groups who financed themselves by their involvement in the global opium trade. 

Now, the danger greatly comes from Chinese triads with excellent cross-border links spanning the region, whose activities are intertwined with the failures of domestic politics and geopolitical dynamics. [Irrawaddy] [USIP]

15 December 2020

Cross-strait relations: Three alleged Chinese cyberagents held in national cyber security case 

(nm) Last week, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) arrested three Taiwanese for allegedly working as agents of the Chinese government. The arrested are accused of disseminating misinformation online that Taiwan and the US were planning to intervene in the domestic politics in Thailand by supporting pro-democracy protests to destabilize the government. They are also suspected of creating social media accounts to promote claims of voting fraud in Taiwan’s presidential election and misinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic.

MJIB stated that the arrests are the first documented case of China successfully recruiting Taiwanese as paid online agents of its “cyberarmy” that works to undermine Taiwanese national security and its international relations. [Taipei Times] [Focus Taiwan]

15 December 2020

China: Xi Jinping urges measures to strengthen political security

(dql) Speaking at a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo, President Xi Jinping made maintaining the safety of the political system a top priority for the party’s work in next five years, calling it the “fundament … to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Among other measures, he stressed the need to “strengthen talent building for national security personnel,” and to “forge an unbreakable team of cadres” in order to “prevent and resolve national security risks, increase the capability to foresee and predict risks, and try to discover and choke off the hidden risks with potential significant security implications.” [Xinhua, in Chinese][South China Morning Post

Xi’s remarks come on the heels of the latest five-year plan, endorsed the party’s Central Committee in October, which for the first time incorporated a chapter on national security into the country’s economic and social development plan, describing “security as the precondition for development.” [Axios] [AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1

They are is also to been seen in the light of a “rectification campaign” kicked off by the party in summer and aimed at getting rid of corruption in the country’s law enforcement apparatus, including the police and other security bodies as well as the judiciary, and targeting “two-faced” officials believed to only pay lip service to the Chinese Communist Party’s rules and orders. The campaign calls on cadres to set aside personal loyalties to “drive the blade in” and “scrape poison off the bone,” to expose wayward colleagues. Observers view the campaign a new purge of Xi Jinping to stabilize his position amid criticism of his leadership within the party. [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4] [New York Times]

For an analysis and assessment of Xi Jinping’s current power position within the party after a year in which he has been facing domestic pressure over the failure of the initial efforts to contain the coronavirus, a slowing economy, and the trade war with the US, see former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in [Asia Society] who argues that while critics of Xi have not disappeared, they have been “placed in check by […] superior political craft,” proofing Xi as “master politician and a master Machiavellian,” in brutal power politics of the Chinese Communist Party. 

15 December 2020

Philippines, US gifting military equipment

(nd) The outgoing Trump administration gives defense equipment worth US$29 million to the Philippines, reinforcing both countries’ alliance, and following previous gifts of military equipment and aid for the victims of the most recent typhoon. It is part of US strategy to counter China in the South China Sea through bilateral security cooperation. Ahead of this, an article in The Philippine Star by US Defense Secretary Christopher Miller spiked conflict with China, for invoking the 2016 Hague arbitration ruling rejecting China’s nine-dash line in the South China Sea and declaring it final and legally binding. He also supported the position of other claimant states in the disputed waters and called China’s actions coercive and destabilizing. [South China Morning Post]

15 December 2020

Maldives’, Chinese officials trade barbs over repayment of loan

(lm) Taking to Twitter, speaker of parliament and former president Mohamed Nasheed on December 11 criticized the growing pressure that the Chinese banks are exerting on the Island nation to repay its outstanding debt. As the Maldives continues to mitigate the economic knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, he alleged that the Maldives were ‘breathing space’, with Chinese banks having refused to offer any concessions for loans maturing within the next 14 days. [OpIndia]

Responding to the allegations, China’s envoy to the Maldives initially denied that a payment was due within the next fourteen days, but had to partially retract his statement the following day. [Frontline]

In the past, Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MPD) with incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih have been critical of the massive Chinese debt amassed under the previous regime, warning that China may take over Maldives if the archipelago fails to repay loans, for which the grace period has expired [see e.g. AiR (4/11/2018)].

Male is estimated to have accumulated $1.5 billion in debt to Beijing, equivalent to 45 percent of its national debt. China has already reduced this year’s loan repayment to $75 million from the scheduled $100 million under the G20 ‘Debt Service Suspension Initiative’, and agreed to partially suspend debt repayment applicable to $600 million in loans for a period of approximately four years [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1].


15 December 2020

Pakistan, China hold military exercise, in the wake of signing significant military MoU

A joint military exercise between the Pakistani and Chinese air forces kicked off in Pakistan on December 9, coming in the wake of the two longtime allies signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to further enhance defense cooperation between the Pakistan Army and the People’s Liberation Army [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2]. [Anadolu Agency]

While details of the pact have not been made public, analysts believe it contains new commitments to intelligence-sharing that will help Pakistan track the movements of Indian forces across their tense shared border. Hence, the signing has to be seen vis-à-vis the recently signed information-sharing pact between India and the United States, which commits both countries to provide reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities, securing military communications, and sharing geospatial data from airborne and satellite sensor [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1]. [Nikkei Asia]

15 December 2020

India needs to build ‘dissuasive deterrence’ against China, says Chief of Defense staff

(lm) India’s Chief of Defense Staff, General Bipin Rawat, on December 11 said India will seek to engage with extra-regional powers and improve regional linkages to build ‘dissuasive deterrence’ against China’s attempts at establishing its hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region. Further elaborating, General Rawat said New Delhi will build on existing bilateral and multilateral mechanisms, including more training engagements with partner nations, while also retaining strategic autonomy in decision-making. [Tribune India] [Hindustan Times]

Context and timing of General Rawat’s remarks, made at the Global Dialogue Security summit on ‘Contesting the Indo-Pacific for Global Domination’, are noteworthy. Taking against the larger backdrop the protracted border stand-off with China [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1], they come in a time when India is trying to strengthen strategic ties with neighboring countries such as Nepal [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]. They also follow in the wake of a string of virtual engagements by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi aimed at deepening political and economic ties with European nations [see e.g. AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. Already, leading European powers nations Germany and France have unveiled strategies for the Indo-Pacific [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].

Separately, Indian Army Chief General Naravane from December 9 to December 14 proceeded on a visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, marking the first time an Indian Army Chief was visiting the UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [Anadolu Agency]

15 December 2020

China again bails out Pakistan to pay maturing 2$ billion Saudi loan

(lm) China has agreed to immediately provide $1.5 billion finance line to Pakistan, which is preparing to repay the second tranche ($1 billion) of a $2 billion loan from Saudi Arabia. The remaining $1 billion is due in January 2021. [The Express Tribune]

Pakistan had forwarded a formal request in November for granting a rollover of the $2 billion Saudi loan [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2], which was part of a $6.2 billion financial assistance package announced by Saudi Arabia in November 2018, when Islamabad was struggling with rapidly expanding trade deficit and declining foreign reserves. The package included $3 billion in cash assistance and a $3.2 billion worth of annual oil and gas supply on deferred payments [see AiR (5/10/2018)]. Islamabad has already paid back 1$ billion out of the $3 billion in May this year, after taking a $1 billion loan from China, while $2 billion are still with the State Bank of Pakistan. [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]

Prior loans were extended through China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) deposits or as commercial loans. This time, however, both countries have agreed to augment the size of an existing bilateral Currency-Swap Agreement (CSA) by an additional $1.5 billion, thereby increasing the overall size of the trade facility to $4.5 billion. The benefit of this arrangement will be that the additional $1.5 billion Chinese loan will not reflect on the book of the federal government. But what is more, the loan will not be treated as part of Pakistan’s external public debt, and thus will not further burden the country’s dwindling foreign currency reserves, which currently stand at $12.2 billion [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. [Moneycontrol]

The CSA, which was signed between the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Peoples Bank of China (PBOC) in December 2011, is scheduled to mature in May next year. Pakistan last month decided to seek a rollover. In the event Pakistan fails to secure a third extension, the SBP will be liable to repay Beijing $3 billion by using dollars to buy Chinese yuan, a move that analysts say will certainly affect the country’s foreign reserves [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2].

15 December 2020

India, China deploy assault boats at Pangong Tso

(lm) While a breakthrough continues to elude diplomats and top military commanders alike, who are trying to resolve the months-long border stand-off, latest reports suggest that China is reinforcing its presence around the Pangong Tso by, deploying assault boats to the glacial lake. India, in turn, will also deploy boats with enhanced capabilities, including anti-ramming features, by next summer. [The EurAsian Times] [Swarajya]

Indian media reported earlier this month that China has not only dug its heels in Ladakh, but has also increased military activity on its side of the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh and elsewhere. In response to the developments, the Indian Navy deployed its elite Marine Commandos (MARCOS) near Pangong Tso, adding to India’s strength along the Line of Control (LoC). [AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]

15 December 2020

West has policy to engage India in ‘anti-China games’, says Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov

(lm) While delivering a speech at a state-run think tank, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week created a geopolitical stir, claiming that India was being manipulated by Western countries into ‘anti-China games’ directed at undermining New Delhi’s partnership with Moscow. Reflecting Russia’s traditional suspicion of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a geographical and strategic construct, the foreign minister also asserted that the concept was aimed at disrupting existing regional structures by giving them a pronounced anti-China slant. [The Wire

The remarks sparked commentaries from irked observers who expressed concern at Moscow being oblivious ‘to the agency of India in shaping its own priorities’. In the same vein, New Delhi on December 11 pushed back against the Russian foreign minister’s stand, saying the country has an independent foreign policy based on its national interests. [Observer Research Foundation] [Hindustan Times]

While Lavrov in the past had criticized the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) – a loose strategic coalition of Japan, India, Australia and the United States, his current remarks come in times of an ongoing military stand-off between India and China. In this context, it is worth recollecting that Russia, which provides more than 60 percent of India’s weaponry, has been nudging both countries to get back to the negotiating table [see AiR No. 47, November/2020, 4]. [South China Morning Post]

15 December 2020

India-China ties significantly damaged, says India’s foreign minister, citing ‘Beijing’s dishonesty’

(lm) Addressing a webinar organized by the Lowy Institute, India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said last week bilateral relations between New Delhi and Beijing are at the ‘most difficult phase’ in the last three to four decades. Putting the blame firmly on China, he said that Beijing had flouted bilateral agreements and mutually agreed norms that had hitherto allowed both sides to maintain peace.

Speaking against the larger backdrop of the continued border stand-off with China [see article this edition] Jaishankar blamed ‘Beijing’s dishonesty’ as the reason for massive troop deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), adding that China has given India five differing explanations for its unprecedented military activity along the LAC. [Al Jazeera]

In remarks that clearly echoed accusations made by India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh in September [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4], Jaishankar elaborated that relations between India and China had had problems since 1988, but were moving in a positive direction, because there was an understanding that both sides would maintain ‘peace and tranquillity’ along the border, despite having diverging perceptions of the LAC. [The Print]

Responding to Jaishankar’s statement, China on December 10 swiftly rejected the accusations, saying that ‘the responsibility totally lies with the Indian side’. [The Hindu]


15 December 2020

China-Germany relations: Berlin bocks Chinese takeover of German satellite provider

(dql) Citing national security concerns, the German government has reportedly rejected the acquisition of key German satellite provider IMST by Addsino, a subsidiary of state-owned defence group China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation which manufactures military communication systems. 

IMST is the primary satellite technology provider in Germany and the radar communications supplier to the German Armed Forces. It is also involved in 5G technology development. [Republic World] [Business Times]

15 December 2020

China-Japan relations: Defense Ministers agree on communication hotline amid continued differences over disputed East China Sea islands

(dql) China’s Wei Fanghe and his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi agreed during a virtual meeting to strengthen efforts to quickly establish a hotline between their officials to prevent accidental clashes at sea and in the air. Both countries had launched a communication mechanism between their defense authorities in 2018. However, opening a hotline – a pillar of that mechanism – but they have made little progress.

At the same time, both sides insisted on their respective claims over disputed islands in the East China Sea. While Kishi called Beijing’s claims over those islands “completely unacceptable,” Wei reaffirmed China’s “unwavering” commitment to defending its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests. [Nikkei Asian Review]


15 December 2020

China-US relations: Beijing’s visa retaliation, Washington’s crackdown on Chinese tech firms

(dql) China last week cancelled arrangements of visa-free visit to Hong Kong and Macau for holders of US diplomatic passports, retaliating a decision of the Trump administration early last week to impose financial sanctions and a travel ban on 14 vice-chairpersons of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the country’s top legislative body, over their alleged role in the disqualification of elected opposition lawmakers of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2]

Meanwhile, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the country’s telecoms regular, has rejected a petition of ZTE Corp, a major Chinese telecommunications equipment maker, requesting the agency to reconsider its decision in June to designate the Chinese company as a threat to US national security. [Aljazeera]

In a related move, the FCC announced that it has started the process of revoking China Telecom’s authorization to operate in the US. China Telecom, the largest Chinese telecommunications company, is considered being forced to comply with Chinese government’s demands for information, including communications intercepts. [Reuters]

15 December 2020

China plants its flag on the moon

(dql) In a highly symbolic move signaling China’s space ambitions, the lander of China’s spacecraft Chang-e 5 unfolded a Chinese flag on the moon before the spacecraft took off to return to the earth, making China the second country in history to put its flag on the moon, over 50 years after the US first planted the Stars and Stripes. [BBC]

In a related development, China announced that it plans to launch a new imaging satellite to monitor Arctic shipping routes which will employ Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology capable of observing the Earth’s surface even during night time and through cloud layers or smoke. [High North News]

Reflecting China’s space ambitions, Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 remarked that China’s space program was a “part of the dream to make China stronger.” More boldly, the Chief Commander of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, made the following comparison in 2017: “The universe is like the ocean: The moon is like the Diaoyu Islands and Mars is like Scarborough Shoal,” adding that “[w]e will be blamed by our descendants if we don’t go there … and others get there before us.” [The Trumpet] [ZGZX, in Chinese]

Meanwhile, US President Trump in his “National Space Policy of the United States of America”, released last week, reassured that the US “will continue to use space for the security of the Nation and our allies,” and warned that “[s]hould any adversary threaten to endanger the benefits we all derive from space, the United States will employ all elements of national power to deter and, if necessary, prevail over hostile activities in, from, and through space.” [White House]


15 December 2020

Philippines: Concerns over China funded company hiring Philippine ex-soldiers to ensure cybersecurity

(nd) Philippine telecommunication company Dito in which Chinese state-run China Telecom (ChinaTel) holds a 38.9% stake is under increasing criticisms for risking the integrity of national security interests, not least for the fact that it is building facilities inside military camps as well. Now, the telecom company that claims to remain Filipino in nature faces even more concern as it has recruited at least 9 former soldiers from the Philippine’s armed forces to its cybersecurity team headed by a former general. While the company claims the soldiers would ensure loyalty to their country, critics see security risks greater endangered. [Rappler]

15 December 2020

Taiwan: Court overrules appeal of pro-China news channel against its closure

(nm) Chung Tien Television (CTiTV) ultimately had to shut down its news channel last week as the channel’s six-year broadcast license expired after the Supreme Administrative Court had overruled an appeal by the company that was directed against the rejection of a request for an injunction by the Taipei High Administrative Court. With the injunction request, CTiTV sought to continue operation after the channel’s application for the renewal of its broadcast licence was rejected by the National Communications Commission (NCC) in November. 

The legal battle of CTiTV, widely known for its harsh critics of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and for being friendly towards China, has been accompanied by a heated debate between the DPP and the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT). 

While the KMT called the decision of the NCC politically motivated, accusing the NCC of “subverting freedom of speech and freedom of press”, the DPP described it as effective move to deter abuse of freedom of press. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Taipei Times]

Meanwhile, the NCC announced that it is drafting the Digital Communications Act to better regulate “inappropriate” online content. A similar act had been introduced by the NCC in 2018 but did not pass the Legislative Yuan due to concerns over internet censorship. [Focus Taiwan 2]

15 December 2020

ICC rejects Uighur genocide complaint against China

(dql) The International Criminal Court (ICC) has rejected calls by exiled Uighurs to investigate China for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity, arguing that it was unable to act as the alleged acts happened on the territory of China, which is not a signatory to Rome Statute.  

In July, the Uighurs submitted a huge dossier of evidence accusing China of having imprisoned over one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in camps for a political re-education and calling on the court to prosecute over 30 Chinese officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping. [CNN] [Wall Street Journal] [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1]

15 December 2020

China/Hong Kong: Prominent protest movement supporter to face trial under national security law

(dql) Arrested in August and denied bail early last week, Hong Kong media tycoon and outspoken democracy advocate Jimmy Lai has been now officially charged on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security. He is so far the most high-profile person to face trail under the security law imposed on the city in June. [AP] [Air No. 49, December/2020, 2

Lai owns Apple Daily, a tabloid known for its open government-critical coverage and raided in August by security authorities, a move widely seen as an act of intimidation of journalists. [Aljazeera] [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]

In a development earlier last week, the Hong Kong police arrested eight pro-democracy activists, and another eight persons over a protest they held on a university campus last month, with three of them detained on suspicion of violating the national security law. [CBS] [ABC]

15 December 2020

China shuts down more than 100 apps 

(dql) China’s National Cyberspace Administration (NCA), the country’s top internet regulator, has removed more than 100 apps from app stores in the country, citing public complaints about information on the apps containing obscene, pornographic and violent content or promoting fraud, gambling and prostitution. 

The move is part of a campaign that started in November in which the NCA announced that it will increase efforts to supervise and inspect mobile apps’ information services, and to “promptly clean up and dispose of illegal mobile applications and application stores, and strive to create a clear cyberspace.”  [Channel News Asia][CNN]

15 December 2020

China: Bloomberg staffer detained

(dql) Chinese security authorities have detained Chinese Bloomberg News employee Haze Fan on suspicion of endangering national security. Her case is “currently undergoing investigation,” according to the Beijing National Security Bureau. With Bloomberg since 2017, Fan’s coverage was primarily business focused, leaving the nature of the charges against her unclear. 

Her detention comes after Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei who worked for CGTN, a state media company, was also charged with “criminal activities endangering national security” in August. She is currently imprisoned in China. Her case involved two other Australian foreign correspondents who had been working for ABC and Australian Financial Review in China and who had been urgently flown home after avoiding a travel ban by agreeing to be interviewed by the Chinese police on Lei. 

Observers view Fan’s detention as a move of the Chinese government to exert pressure on foreign media in China. [Bloomberg] [The Guardian][New York Times] [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

According to the 2020 report of the Committee to Protect Journalists on journalists imprisoned for their work, China is for the second year in a row the world’s worst jailer, with 47 journalists jailed, followed by Turkey (37), Egypt (27), and Saudi Arabia (24). The total number stands at 274, a new record high. [CPJ]

In the World Press Freedom Index 2020 of Reporters Without Borders, China ranks at 177 out of 180 countries. [RSF]

8 December 2020

Vietnam condemns both China and Taiwan’s ‘illegal’ acts in South China Sea

(lm) Vietnam has condemned Taiwan for holding live fire drills in what Hanoi considers its rightful waters in the South China Sea, saying the military exercises conducted on November 24 off the disputed Spratly Islands archipelago constituted a ‘grave violation of Vietnamese territory.’ [Hanoi Times] [VN Express]

Hanoi also protested Chinese authorities’ decision to grant permission for two domestic cruise ships to depart on an itinerary to the disputed Paracel Islands, further condemning the deployment of a newly commissioned hospital ship to the South China Sea. [The Maritime Execute] [The Maritime Execute] [The Star]


8 December 2020

Maldives foreign minister meets Indian and Chinese envoys

(lm) The Maldives foreign minister and finance minister on November 30 met with China’s envoy to the Maldives to talk about economic recovery and development cooperation. Earlier this month, Beijing agreed to defer repayment for loans which were secured via state-owned companies. [Raajje]

In a fresh effort to normalizing ties with Maldives, a country that has habitually oscillated its support between India and China in recent years, India’s High Commissioner to the Maldives met with the country’s foreign minister on December 1. Traditionally, India is considering the Maldives part of its strategic backyard. [Raajje]

Ongoing talks between China and the Maldives come at a time, when Male is estimated to have accumulated $1.5 billion in debt to Beijing, equivalent to 45 percent of the island nation’s national debt. China has already reduced this year’s loan repayment to $75 million from the scheduled $100 million under the G20 ‘Debt Service Suspension Initiative’, and agreed to partially suspend debt repayment applicable to $600 million in loans for a period of approximately four years [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1].

To counter China ’s growing financial footprint in South Asia, New Delhi has provided a host of support measures to the Indian Ocean archipelago in the past [see e.g. AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4], having injected more than $2 billion trough loans, grants, credit lines and currency swaps. Most recently, both countries last week participated in the 4th National Security Adviser (NSA)-level meeting on Maritime Security Cooperation [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]. [Nikkei Asia Review]

8 December 2020

India plans Brahmaputra dam to offset Chinese construction upstream

(lm) India is considering to build a 10-gigawatt (GW) hydropower project in its remote eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, following reports that China was moving ahead with plans to build mega-hydropower plants and dams across the 2,900-kilometer Brahmaputra River, with work on the projects scheduled to take 15 years [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]. [Al Jazeera]

Originating in the northern side of the Himalayas, the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra is a trans-boundary river which flows through Tibet, India, and Bangladesh, making it a major river for irrigation and transportation in the region. While the projects are unlikely to break ground anytime soon, against the larger backdrop of the ongoing border stand-off, Beijing’s move has already caused trepidation in New Delhi. For both India and China, the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra presents a geopolitical opportunity, as damming the perennial river would result in water security in an era of unprecedented shifting climate patterns.

The strategically vulnerable Indian state of Assam and nearby regions border Tibet in the north and are connected to the rest of the country by the narrow Siliguri Corridor, also known as the ‘Chicken’s Neck’ [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]. Thus, India is concerned that Beijing may build a dam around a so-called ‘great bend’, where the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra curves southward before entering India and where the river gains substantial volume of water. [Asia Times]

8 December 2020

China, Pakistan to enhance defense ties, expedite infrastructure/investment projects

(lm) Following his trip to Nepal [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1], Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe arrived in Islamabad on December 1 to meet top officials, including President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Kahn. During a meeting with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the two militaries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to further enhance bilateral defense cooperation. [The Hindu] [The Hindu]

What is more, however, both sides also discussed ongoing projects under the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), a flagship program under China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Prior to Wei’s visit, China’s recently appointed envoy to Pakistan last month had already met with the General Bajwa, who is also heading the CPEC Authority [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2], and conducted a ‘comprehensive review’ of the CPEC projects. [The Diplomat]

Significantly, Beijing’s efforts to boost the CPEC come at a time when a crucial 10th meeting of the CPEC’s Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) – the highest decision-making body of the CPEC – has been further delayed after both countries could not agree on a future roadmap for industrial cooperation. [Observer Research Foundation]

Pakistan’s Parliament, meanwhile, is likely to vote on the CPEC Authority Bill 2020 in the second week of December. Last month, the Standing Committee on Planning and Development cleared the bill that had previously been blocked by opposition members. The legislation is likely to empower the Pakistan’s Army, assigning CPEC projects under the jurisdiction of the CPEC Authority, instead of the Planning and Development Ministry. [The EurAsian Times]

8 December 2020

India accuses China of helping rebel groups at Myanmar border

(lm) Indian officials accused China of supplying funds and weaponry to rebel groups that have stepped up attacks on its border with Myanmar in recent months, opening another front in the conflict between the two giants. The armed groups – including Myanmar’s largest and best-equipped ethnic armed group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) – are allegedly acting as Beijing’s proxies by supplying weapons and providing hideouts to insurgent groups in India’s north-eastern states, the so-called ‘seven stars’. [South China Morning Post 1]

Moreover, multiple security agencies warned the Indian government that at least four of India’s most wanted insurgent leaders were in the southern Chinese city of Kunming to train and source weapons as recently as mid-October. [The Straits Times]

While the direct or indirect support of armed ethnic groups, including the UWSA, gives Beijing leverage in all kinds of negotiations with Myanmar authorities, it has increasingly been considered as playing with fire in relation to at least two of Myanmar’s insurgent groups. In an implicit reference to Beijing, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief alleged in July that domestic terrorist groups were being backed by ‘strong forces’ outside the country. A military spokesperson later clarified that the army chief was referring to the fact that fighters from the Arakan Army (AA) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had used Chinese-made weapons in a 2019 attack [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4].

Further, against the larger backdrop of the protracted border stand-off with India, China’s military has been carrying out training in the mountains of Tibet in an effort to get soldiers used to the region’s extreme conditions. In addition to high-altitude training, checkpoints along the Chinese border have been equipped with new surveillance gear, including observation cameras and drones. Latest developments come months after New Delhi had deployed its Special Frontier Force (SFF), a paramilitary unit consisting mainly of Tibetan and Gorkha paratroopers trained in mountain warfare, to the conflict zone [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2] [South China Morning Post 2]

Seeking the expansion of road width in a highway project adjacent to the Chinese border, India’s Ministry of Defense, meanwhile, told the Supreme Court (SC) that situation on the ground at the India-China border has changed significantly this year and it has become imperative that men and equipment should move swiftly from army stations to the frontier. [India Legal] [Hindustan Times]


8 December 2020

China-Russia relations: Deepening cooperation in space exploration

(dql) Amid their both countries’ sour relations with the USA, China and Russia last week announced to expand their cooperation in space exploration and related technologies, with particular focus on satellite navigation by enhancing the compatibility of China’s BeiDou and Russia’s Glonass satellites, rivals to the US Global Positioning System (GPS). 

A related joint communique, which also confirms both sides’ willingness to deepen cooperation in the research and development of vaccines and medicines to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, was presented by Chinese Premier and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Mishustin via video conference. [South China Morning Post

It comes at a time when China is accelerating the implementation of its ambitious space program, latest reflected in the landing of the country’s third spacecraft on the moon, equipped with an explorer vehicle expected to collect rock material from the lunar surface for the first time in more than four decades. Last year, China became the first nation to land a spacecraft on the moon’s little-explored far side. [VoA]

For sketch of the historical development of Sino-Russian outer space cooperation see Richard Weitz in [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief


8 December 2020

China-US trade relations: New Chinese firms blacklisted, and no changes on tariffs for the moment

(dql) The US Department of Defense last week added four Chinese firms to a blacklist of Chinese companies considered to be owned or controlled by the Chinese military. Among them is Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), China’s largest chipmaker, along with China National Offshore Oil Corporation, an offshore oil and gas producer; China Construction Technology Co. Ltd., a large construction science and technology company; and China International Engineering Consulting Corp., China’s largest engineering consulting firm. With these latest additions, the total of Chinese companies listed as military-owned or -controlled stands currently at 35. [CNBC]

Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden revealed in an interview that President Trump’s 25% tariffs imposed on China under the ‘Phase One’ trade deal will remain in place at the start of his administration. He added that he plans to fully review the current US policy on China and seek to speak with key allies in Asia and Europe to get the US “back on the same page” with them. [New York Times]

8 December 2020

China-US relations: Diplomatic tensions flare up over jailing of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, scrapped Chinese culture programs and new US visa restrictions

(dql) Diplomatic tensions between China and the US have flared up after a court in Hong Kong handed down prison sentences against Joshua Wong and other pro-democracy activists (see above).

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the verdict as “political persecution” of pro-democracy advocates, accusing the Chinese Communist Party of using the judiciary to suppress peaceful dissent, while his British counterpart Dominic Raab called on the Chinese government to end the stifling of opposition in the city. [Republic World] [Reuters]

Beijing and Hong Kong officials hit back, saying the sentences barely atone for the crimes of the arrested against China and accusing foreign countries of defaming the judiciary over its handling the cases.  [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, the Trump administration last week announced the termination of five cultural-exchange programs with China, saying that these programs were “operated by the (Chinese) government as soft power propaganda tools.” The programs included the Policymakers Educational China Trip Program, the U.S.-China Friendship Program, the U.S.-China Leadership Exchange Program, the U.S.-China Transpacific Exchange Program and the Hong Kong Educational and Cultural Program. Under all of these programs, US officials were allowed to travel in China at Beijing’s expense. [CNBC]

The decision to stop the programs came shortly after new visa restrictions were imposed by Washington limiting stays in the US by members of China’s Communist Party and their family members to ten months, down from previously ten years.

In a related, latest development visa restrictions were also announced applying to Chinese Communist Party officials or anyone else believed by the US to participate in propaganda or influence operations linked to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. The announcement did not contain details of those restrictions. [Reuters] [VoA]

Meanwhile, the US Justice Department revealed that – following an FBI investigation this summer – over 1.000 researchers who had hidden their affiliation with the Chinese military left the US, with the exodus starting in the wake of the arrests of six Chinese researchers accused of lying on their visa applications about their ties to the People’s Liberation Army. [Washington Post]

In latest development, the US on Monday imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on 14 vice-chairpersons of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the country’s top legislative body,  over their alleged role in the disqualification of elected opposition lawmakers of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. [Reuters] [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]

8 December 2020

New US Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) to be established and ‘reciprocal’ legislation demanded to counter China

(dql) Last week the US congress agreed on 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with more than 740 billion USD allocated for defense spending, including a 2.2 billion USD budget for a new Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) over two years aimed to target China by boosting US deterrence and defence posture, increasing readiness and capability in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as deepening cooperation with allies and partners including India, Australia and Japan.

In addition to the PDI, the bill requires US President to create a whole-of-government strategy to impose costs on China to deter industrial espionage and the large-scale theft of personal information, while the defense secretary mandated to create a “continuous assessment activity” to study the industrial bases of China and other foreign adversaries, with its first assessment due Aug. 1. [Defense News] [Deccan Herald]

Meanwhile, the annual report to Congress of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission – a congressional commission responsible for monitoring and investigating national security and trade issues between the US and China – has called on US lawmakers to prioritize the principle of “reciprocity” in future legislation to face Beijing. The report identified for such legislations a number of areas covering the treatment of journalists, market access for internet companies, the ability of non-governmental organizations to engage with civil society and diplomats’ freedom of travel.

Further recommendations of the commission include expanding the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to monitor and take foreign government subsidies into account when vetting company mergers, and directing the Department of State to produce an annual report on China’s actions in the UN and its agencies aimed at subverting the principles and purposes of the organization. [Bloomberg] [South China Morning Post]


8 December 2020

China is NATO’s “full-spectrum systemic rival”, NATO commissioned report says

(dql) The “NATO 2030: United for a New Era”, an expert report on the reform of the alliance commissioned by the NATO Secretary General, calls China “a full-spectrum systemic rival,” warning against seeing China only as “a purely economic player or an only Asia-focused security actor.” It explains that while China “does not pose an immediate military threat to the Euro-Atlantic area on the scale of Russia,” NATO allies nevertheless “feel China’s influence more and more in every domain”. That applies to Beijing’s growing defense ties with Moscow, the development of weapons with global reach, extensive space-based capabilities, and a growing nuclear arsenal as well as its infrastructure projects including Belt and Road, Polar Silk Road, and Cyber Silk Road.

The report generally advises to consolidating NATO by “enhancing political cohesion and convergence” as its core task in “an era of strategic simultaneity, in which numerous interconnected threats face the Alliance at the same time.” With regards to China the report calls on NATO to “enhance its understanding of China’s capabilities, activities, and intentions that affect Euro-Atlantic security,” including risks, threats, and opportunities,” and to demonstrate “political cohesion and remain a platform for consultation on China’s actions and Allies’ reactions.”

To this end, the report recommends the creation of a “consultative body,” that gathers NATO allies, and other institutions and partners as relevant to “discuss all aspects of Allies’ security interests vis-à-vis China.” [NATO] [The Diplomat]

The report comes a year after French President Emmanuel Macron in November 2019 diagnosed NATO’s “brain dead” stressing the need for a reassessment of the “reality of what NATO is in the light” of the US commitment under US President Donald Trump and his plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Germany, Iraq, and Somalia. [BBC] [New York Times]

Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times was quick to cite Chinese experts to criticize the report and present NATO as an “outdated organization” without justification for its existence unless it manages to “set an enemy and vigorously hype threats from the enemy,” which, however, are “imaginary out of victim paranoia.” [Global Times]

8 December 2020

China/Hong Kong: Joshua Wong jailed for 13 and a half months, pro-democracy media tycoon denied bail

(dql) Last Thursday, leading pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was sentenced to 13 and a half months in jail. Early last week he had pleaded guilty to organizing and inciting an illegal assembly during an anti-government rally in June last year. Observers say, that he did so “to speed up the process, as they knew they could not win in this court,” and to avoid a possible maximum of five years in prison.

Human Rights Watch called the ruling “outrageous,” and a move to deter future criticism against the government. Along with Wong, two other pro-democracy activists were also sentenced to ten and seven months in prison respectively, on charges related to the same protest. [Aljazeera] [Deutsche Welle]

Meanwhile, Hong Kong media tycoon and democracy advocate Jimmy Lai was charged with fraud and denied bail over flight risks. Lai is one of the most vocal critics of the Hong Kong government and founder of Apple Daily, a popular tabloid often openly critical of the Chinese Communist Party. His arrest is also seen among government critics as a move to further curb freedom of press and expression in Hong Kong. [NPR]

1 December 2020

Nepal: After PM Oli, Chinese envoy meets communist party’s co-chair and Oli rival Dahal

(lm) While the power-struggle within Nepal’s ruling Communist Party (NCP) continues to deepen, China’s ambassador to Kathmandu met with party co-chair and rival of Prime Minister Oli Dahal. This is not the first time that the Chinese ambassador has expressed ‘deep interest’ in the internal dynamics of the ruling party as rift between warring factions peak [see AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1AiR No. 18, May/2020, 1]. [The Himalayan Times]

Last week, the Chinese envoy held separate meetings with Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and the prime minister. While he had hitherto refused to call for a Secretariat meeting, after talking with the Chinese ambassador, PM Oli agreed to hold a meeting of the nine-member body the following day. During the meeting, Oli declared either he had to step down as both party co-chair and prime minister if the allegations levelled against him by Dahal were proven right or else Dahal would have to quit party co-leadership.

Meanwhile, a 21-member delegation led by Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe arrived in Kathmandu on an official visit on November 29. Wei is the senior most Chinese official to visit Nepal after the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October last year [AiR No. 42, October/2019, 3]. The visit also take place amidst accusations of Nepali opposition lawmakers who allege Beijing has annexed dozens of hectares from a district bordering Tibet. [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. [AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]

The timing of Wei’s visit is noteworthy, coming on the heels of a trip from Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who visited Kathmandu on November 26-27 [see article in this edition]. [The Kathmandu Post]

1 December 2020

Myanmar, China to dispute over fence at border

(nd) Following Chinese authorities building fences near border posts with Myanmar, the Military objected to this move, referring to the 1961 treaty on the China-Myanmar boundary stipulating inter alia that no structures shall be built within 10 meters of the demarcation line on either side. China put up the fences in an effort to prevent illegal border crossings to curb the spread of Covid 19. The constructions were stopped after the letter was received. Politicians commented, the unilateral move highlighted the imbalance of power between the countries. Northern Shan State and China have had on and off disputes at their 2,227-km long shared border since 2018. [Irrawaddy]


1 December 2020

Malaysia, China to standoff in South China Sea

(nd) Tensions arise from a newly standoff over oil and gas drilling in the South China Sea between the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and Royal Malaysian Navy. The Chinese vessel approached the jack-up rig working for  Thailand’s national upstream company PTTEP off Sarawak, East Malaysia, which impacted the rig and its support vessels. Malaysia deployed a naval vessel in response.

China could aim to further escalate the standoff with further deployments to drilling sites off Malaysia, since it claims some 80% of the Luconia Shoals. On the other hand, it entails serious provocation to Malaysia, this close to its shores. [Upstream]

1 December 2020

Indonesia, China cooperate on copper smelter

(nd) China’s Tsingshan Steel agreed to build the US$1.8 billion mining facility for Freeport Indonesia (PTFI) at its nickel processing complex in Halmahera, which will still need governmental approval. Tsingshan agreed to complete the smelter within 18 months.

Over two years, it was unclear where the smelter shall be located and came as a surprise that President Joko Widodo had already agreed to the plan. Additionally, he pushed plans to boost the electric vehicle industry, with Hyundai as an initial $1.5 billion investor and LG Chemical interested in building a lithium battery plant. Tsingshan also plans to complete a lithium battery factory at the same location by 2023, the new copper smelter will provide it with the sulphuric acid needed to produce low-grade ferronickel for the stainless steel market and also to recover cobalt from spent lithium batteries. Indonesia disposed of 80% of resources to produce lithium batteries.The government acquired 51% of shares in PTFI in 2018, which includes the Grasberg mine in Papua’s Central Highlands, the world’s largest gold reserve and second-biggest copper mine.

Experts doubt the economic viability of building a copper smelter in a place as remote as Halmahera, saying only eradicating environmental controls would cut capital costs sufficiently. This is not the first nickel-related project that is facilitated together with China, who has already incited controversy for bringing in thousands of its workers to construct processing centers first in Central Sulawesi and now Halmahera. [Asia Times]

1 December 2020

Indonesia, China to sign trade deal

(nd) Following an agreement between the Indonesian Coal Mining Association (APBI) and China Coal Transportation and Distribution, China will buy $1.467 billion worth of thermal coal from Indonesia next year. Indonesia is the world’s top exporter of thermal coal, which is used in power plants. After China’s imports dropped 24.5% in the first 10 months of 2020 to 86.88 million tonnes, compared to 115.03 million during the same period last year, Indonesia promoted coal sales around Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam. [Reuters]

1 December 2020

China to build a major dam on Brahamputra river, raising red flags in India and Bangladesh

(lm) China is moving ahead with plans to build a hydropower project on the lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangbo (Brahmaputra River) in Tibet, raising concerns that in neighboring India and Bangladesh. A proposal has been made in the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), which was endorsed by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in November [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1], and is earmarked to be implemented from next year. [Global Times] [The Times of India]

Originating in the northern side of the Himalayas, the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra is a trans-boundary river which flows through Tibet, India and Bangladesh, making it a major river for irrigation and transportation in the region. Against the larger backdrop of the ongoing border stand-off with India [see article in this edition], the project has come under intense scrutiny, because it is likely to have an impact on the two lower riparian states, India and Bangladesh. Hence, for both India and China, the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra presents a geopolitical opportunity as damming the perennial river would result in water security in an era of unprecedented shifting climate patterns. [The Indian Express]

To ensure water security, China has claimed express ownership over Tibet’s waters, making it an upstream controller of seven of South Asia’s mightiest rivers – the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Yangtze, and Mekong. China’s dam constructions have come under criticism for contributing to recent droughts that have severely damaged agriculture and depleted fish stocks in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. [Hindustan Times]

In August, talks between Bangladesh and China on a loan deal to implement a proposed irrigation project on the Teesta River had entered an advanced stage, leaving flat India which had hitherto initiated a series of measures to regain long-standing good relations with its eastern neighbor [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. Later this year, Beijing then signed an agreement with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – an intergovernmental organization of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, pledging to share year-round and current data on water flows of the Mekong [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].

1 December 2020

Sri Lanka, China agree to deepen bilateral ties

(lm) Coming less than two months after a short-notice Colombo visit of a high-level Chinese delegation in October [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2], the foreign and deputy foreign ministers of both countries respectively held a virtual meeting last week. [ColomboPage]

The discussion of possible Chinese assistance for poverty eradication and livelihood support in Sri Lanka is in line with President Rajapaksa’s earlier pledge to pursue ‘China-style development’ in the island nation, and to disprove the popular ‘debt-trap’ analysis about Chinese loans [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. While Sri Lanka has sought a financial lifeline from Beijing in the face of a major economic crunch [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3], President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the newly appointed Chinese ambassador to Colombo earlier this month that Sri Lanka ‘seeks investments not loans’ from Beijing. [The Hindu]

1 December 2020

India bans 43 more Chinese mobile apps, citing cybersecurity concerns

(lm) India, which has banned more than 175 apps with links to neighboring China in recent months [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5], has banned another 43 such apps, including some from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. Like with the previous orders, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology cited cybersecurity concerns to pull the apps from its domestic market. [The Times of India] [The Indian Express]

Tensions between India and China escalated after more than 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a military clash in the Himalayas in June [see AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3]. Ever since, anti-China sentiment has soared in India and sparked calls for a boycott of goods from the neighboring country. In April, India also introduced stricter governmental vetting procedures for foreign investments, requiring Chinese investors – who have ploughed billions of dollars into Indian startups in recent years — to take government approval before they could write new checks to Indian firms [see AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3]. The move has significantly reduced Chinese investors’ presence in Indian startups’ deal flows in the months since. [TechCrunch]

However, Beijing not only remains New Delhi’s biggest trading partner, but imports from China have actually increased in the months since Prime Minister Modi announced the stimulus package for the domestic economy in May. Against this backdrop, China on November 25 urged India to restore bilateral trade relations ‘for mutual benefit and win-win results on the basis of dialogue and negotiation’. [South China Morning Post] [The Hindu]

1 December 2020

Instead of disengaging, China is fortifying defenses across LAC, according to Indian media

(lm) Notwithstanding periodic hopes for a resolution to the Ladakh standoff, Indian media suggest that China has not only dug its heels in Ladakh, but has also increased military activity on its side of the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh and elsewhere. [The Diplomat] [The Economic Times]

While both sides were considering a reciprocal disengagement plan for the North Bank of Pangong Tso [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3], China has reinforced its troops and rapidly strengthened road infrastructure on its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), stationed container housing modules across all the friction points and turned a village located in close proximity to the LAC into a major army supply depot. [Hindustan Times]

Indian NDTV alleges further that China has also continued with construction activities near the crucial tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan. Moreover, the Chinese army has reportedly set up a village more than two kilometers within Bhutanese territory, and built a road in the same area. The plateau is of strategic importance to Delhi because it overlooks the Siliguri corridor, known as the ‘chicken’s neck’, a narrow strip of land that connects India’s north-eastern states – the seven stars – with the rest of the country. India fears that in any future conflict, Chinese troops could seize the corridor. [NDTV]

In response to the developments, the Indian Navy has deployed its elite Marine Commandos (MARCOS) near Pangong Tso, adding to India’s strength along the Line of Control (LoC). Considering that Indian Air Force and Army have been deployed since the hostilities began in the region seven months ago, experts say the latest deployment is also aimed at enhancing the operational capabilities of the newly formed tri-service Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD). It comes months after New Delhi has deployed its Special Frontier Force (SFF), a paramilitary unit consisting mainly of Tibetan and Gorkha paratroopers trained in mountain warfare, to the conflict zone [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]. [The EurAsian Times]

1 December 2020

The geopolitical politicization of science in COVID-19 times? – Chinese scientists suggest COVID came from the Indian Subcontinent 

(dql) A recent preprint by Chinese scientists is criticized in [The Print] by Sumaiya Shaikh, an Australian-Swedish neuroscientist with Indian ties, according to whom the Chinese authors suggest that the origins of SARS-CoV-2 may not be in China, but in the Indian subcontinent, coming via Australia before making its way into China. The article sheds light on the ongoing politicization of science amid the COVID-19 pandemic which is manifest not only in relations between US and Australia on the one hand and China on the other.


1 December 2020

Taiwan-US: Alternative to China’s Belt and Road plan pushed 

(nm) In a latest sign of increasing economic cooperation between the US and Taiwan, Taiwanese Minister Su Jain-rong last week announced that both sides are moving ahead with a plan to finance infrastructure and energy projects in Asia and Latin America, with projects hoped to commence within the next year or two. Using capital raised from the private sector, the investment initiative is viewed among observers as a counter-project to China’s Belt and Road Initiative which heavily relies on loans from Beijing to governments and usually involves state-owned enterprises. The plan was initiated with the signing of the “Framework to Strengthen Infrastructure Finance and Market Building Cooperation” between the US and Taiwan in September, under which companies from third countries work with the US International Development and Finance Corporation to fund infrastructure projects in developing countries – granting insurers greater yields than typically available at home while being backed up by political support form the US.

Taiwan is the latest country to join an expanding array of US partnerships under this framework, following sixteen other countries which have concluded similar agreements with the US, including Japan, South Korea, and Australia. [Al Jazeera]

1 December 2020

Australia partners with U.S. to develop hypersonic missiles to counter China (and Russia)

(dql) Australia’s Defense Ministry announced that Australia join hands with the US to develop hypersonic cruise missiles, in an attempt to counter China (and Russia) which are developing similar weapons. 

Canberra had set aside up to 6.8 billion USD in this year for high-speed, long-range missile defence systems, including hypersonic research. Earlier this summer, it announced that it would increase defense spending by 40% over the next 10 years to acquire longer-range strike capabilities across air, sea and land as it broadens its military focus from the Pacific to the Indo-Pacific region. [Aljazeera]

1 December 2020

China-Australia relations: Beijing imposes hefty tariffs on Australian wine amid clash over fake war crimes post  

(dql) Already frosty relations between China and Australia are further worsening, after the Chinese government has imposed tariffs, ranging from 107% to 212% on Australian wine imports, a move that experts believe to have a devastating impact on Australian wine exporters. China is Australia’s largest wine export destination, accounting for almost 40% of total exports for the 12 months ending September 2020. China cited findings of dumping on Australia’s side as reason for its move, which the Australian government denied.

Bilateral relations between Canberra and Beijing have been deteriorating earlier this year after Australia called for international inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In response, China took a number of economic sanctions against Australian goods, including tariffs on Australian barley, an import ban on several red meat abattoirs and reportedly giving verbal notice state-owned utilities and steel mills to halt imports of Australian coal. [CNBC] [CNN]

Further complicating the situation is a diplomatic wrangle over a doctored image which shows an Australian soldier with a bloody knife next to a child in Afghanistan. It was posted by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on Twitter, with a caption that reads: “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded an apology, saying that China’s government should be “utterly ashamed” over the post. Beijing’s Foreign Ministry rejected the demand, accusing Canberra of using the row to divert attention from alleged atrocities by Australian soldiers. [VoA] [South China Morning Post]

1 December 2020

Chinese Foreign Minister’s visits to Japan and South Korea

(dql) Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited South Korea and Japan.

During his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihidde Suga, both sides agreed of deepening economic ties, but remained split of disputed islands in the East China Sea. Wang reassured that China seeks to strengthen cooperation with Japan in the fight against the pandemic and in both countries’ economic recovery. Suga confirmed that a “stable relationship between the two countries is important not only for Japan and China but also for the region and the international community,” adding that he “would like to fulfill our responsibilities together.” He, however, reminded Wang of Japan’s claim over Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands, which are claimed by also China, and expressed his concern about Beijing’s growing activity in the area. Wang, speaking with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi a day earlier, said that China was firm its right to defend its sovereignty. [AP 1] [Japan Times]

Speaking with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha and President Moon Jae-in, Wang called for stronger cooperation in combatting the coronavirus pandemic, in trade and in finding a peaceful solution to a nuclear standoff with North Korea.

Wang’s visit to Seoul comes at a time when concerns in South Korea are rising that the country risks to becoming squeezed between China, its biggest trading partner, and military ally the United States, as well as when Moon’s ambitions for inter-Korean engagement have faltered amid stalled nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea. [AP 2]

1 December 2020

China bans US NGO workers from entering the country

(dql) China announced that it will ban four people working for American NGOs from entering the country, citing their “bad performance” over Hong Kong Affairs.

The move is widely seen as retaliation for US sanctions on four Chinese officials in November over their role in what Washington calls a crackdown on political rights in Hong Kong. The sanctions included a ban from entry to the US and the freezing of their assets in the US. [Yahoo News] [AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]

1 December 2020

China-US relations: New Chinese export control law enters into force amid new sanctions against Chinese firms

(dql) Approved in October by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, China’s new export control law came into effect this week which provides the country with the first comprehensive regulatory framework for restricting exports of controlled goods for national security and public policy reasons, including like sensitive technology, military goods, dual-use items. At the same time, the law allows for retaliatory measures against a country that abuses export controls to harm China’s interests and endanger its national security. [South China Morning Post]

The law is widely seen as retaliation to US restrictions on Chinese tech companies, including Huawei, Tiktok and Tencent. It is believed that the Trump administration will add China’s largest chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation SMIC and national offshore oil and gas producer China National Offshore Oil Corporation on the blacklist of alleged Chinese military companies. [BBC] [Reuters 1]

In a latest development, the US on Monday imposed sanctions on Chinese firm China National Electronics Import & Export Corporation (CEIEC), citing the firm’s its support for the Maduro government’s “efforts to restrict internet service and conduct digital surveillance and cyber operations against political opponents.” [Reuters 2]

In an earlier move last week, Venezuela resumed direct shipments of oil to China after U.S. sanctions sent the trade underground for over a year. The sanctions were of efforts of Trump administration to oust President Maduro, but they failed to completely halt the South American nation’s oil exports or to loosen Maduro’s grip on power. Customers of state company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) instead boosted shipments to Malaysia, allowing most of Venezuela’s crude to continue reaching through trade intermediaries. [Reuters 3] [RT]

1 December 2020

China’s space ambitions raise US concerns

(dql) According to the secretary-general of the China National Space Administration, China is pressing ahead with the Long March 9 super heavy launch vehicle for crewed lunar, robotic deep space exploration and space infrastructure. Currently in the stage of research and development stage, the rocket’s test launch is planned for around 2030.

The statement came shortly after the launch of the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission from the Wenchang spaceport on the same day which, if successful, would make it first mission to bring lunar samples to Earth since 1976. [Spacenews] []

Commenting on the launch, US Space Force General John Raymond called it a “threat” as China (and Russia) “seek to stop US access to space,” and “are developing capabilities that would negate the US advantage.” [Express]

Meanwhile, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called on the President-elect Joe Biden to  restore lines of communication with China, warning that “[u]nless there is some basis for some cooperative action” between Washington and Beijing, “the world will slide into a catastrophe comparable to World War I.” He expressed his hope that the common threat of the coronavirus pandemic would provide an opening for political discussions between the two countries when Biden assumes the presidency in January. []

24 November 2020

Indonesia: Move of HQ to Natuna Islands

(nd) The Indonesian navy moves its combat force headquarter to Natuna Islands, at the southern edge of the South China Sea, to be able to respond faster and protect territorial interests in the disputed waters amid rising tensions in the area where Chinese nine-dash-line-claims overlap with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Jakarta, which rejects the Chinese claims resolutely, has detected a Chinese Coast Guard ship in its EEZ in September. Additionally, the Indonesia’s EEZ overlapps with those of Vietnam in the region as well with fishing boats from both countries regularly encroaching in the respective zones. For Indonesia, the challenge is mounting on both front lines. Last month alone, 31 foreign vessels, most Vietnamese-flagged, were detected to have fished illegally in the Natuna area, according to Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia. Yet, the biggest threat are Chinese fishing activities, which cannot be counterbalanced by merely deploying more Indonesian fishing vessels due to better gear and training of the Chinese fishermen. [Radio Free Asia]

24 November 2020

Malaysia: Malacca to stop Chinese backed harbor project

(nd) Malaysian state of Malacca canceled a China backed $10.5 billion harbor development project, the Melaka Gateway project, because the developer had failed to complete its tasks in due time.

Initiated under the government of then-Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Malaysian developer KAJ backed by state-owned PowerChina and two other Chinese companies, the ensuing Mahathir government revoked the project’s license in October 2018 over conflicting reports on whether the developer’s duties were fulfilled. After the developer successfully appealed the decision in 2019, the company failed to complete other parts of the project to be completed in October this year leading to the project’s final termination. [Radio Free Asia] [The Diplomat]


24 November 2020

Laos, China to sign tariffs agreement

(py) Under a Preferential Tariff Program, China agreed to remove tariffs on 97 percent of Laotian goods. Similar agreements were signed with Cambodia and Myanmar. The new agreement creates more production in Laos and increases exports to China. Yet, critics say the scheme might benefit China more than Laos more by setting higher standards for products from Lao-owned operations than those from Chinese investors in Laos. [Radio Free Asia]


24 November 2020

US National Security Adviser tells Vietnam to curb illegal Chinese shipment to avoid duties

(lm) During a two-day visit to Hanoi, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien urged Vietnamese leaders to intensify efforts to curb the illegal re-routing of Chinese transshipments and to reduce Hanoi’s bilateral trade surplus to reverse recently imposed US tariffs. [South China Morning Post 1]

According to observers, the Southeast Asian country has emerged as one of the largest beneficiaries of the ongoing trade dispute between China and the United States as some businesses are relocating their supply chains from China in order to avoid tariffs. At the same time, Vietnam relies heavily on China for materials and equipment for its labor-intensive manufacturing. Meanwhile, the United States is its largest export market. [Deutsche Welle]

After Washington in October announced an official investigation into whether Hanoi had manipulated its currency [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1], the US Commerce Department this month imposed preliminary anti-subsidy duties on Vietnamese car and truck tires, citing the nation’s ‘undervalued currency’ among the reasons. Before, the US Treasury Department in January had already placed Vietnam on a watchlist of ten potential currency manipulators that also includes Malaysia and Singapore. [Bloomberg]

Before, O’Brien had taken part in the virtual East Asia Summit, on the sidelines of which 15 countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, signed the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which marks a major setback for the US influence in Asia [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. On a more positive note, US conglomerate General Electric and a Vietnamese company signed a memorandum of understanding to develop an LNG (liquified natural gas) power plant near Ho Chi Minh City, during O’Brien’s visit to Hanoi. [The Business Times]

What is noteworthy, the visit follows a visit to Hanoi last month by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which had yielded no concrete agreements, despite the high expectations for Pompeo’s trip [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1]. Some observers suggest that O’Brien’s on-again trip may have been aimed at signaling consistency and continuity in Washington’s hardened stance on the South China Sea dispute, despite the transition from Trump to Biden. [South China Morning Post 2]


24 November 2020

China-Japan relations: Foreign Ministers agree on pandemic cooperation amid hardening stances on disputed East China Sea islands

(dql) In a meeting on Tuesday in Tokyo, Chinese Foreign Ministers Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi agreed to cooperate in combating the coronavirus and reviving their pandemic-hit economies. They also agreed to try to avoid actions that provoke tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea and to set up a hotline between their militaries by the end of December. In spite of this, both sides insists on their respective claims over the disputed territories, with Motegi reiterating Japan’s demand that China “takes a forward-looking action,” while Wang reassured China’s position saying that “we will continue to safeguard our sovereignty.” [AP]

Wang is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday. His visit comes at a time when concerns about Beijing’ influence in the Asia are rising in Japan while potentials to deepen economic ties increase after both countries joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. 

24 November 2020

China maintains discontent against Australia 

(dql) Amid already frosty relations, China is hardening its stance against Australia. Following a fiercely worded statement in which China reiterated that it held Australia solely responsible for the current condition of the countries’ bilateral ties because of a “series of wrong moves related to China” on Canberra’s sides, China made public a list of more than a dozen grievances against Australia. Topping the list is a ban of Huawei from the roll-out of 5G over national security concerns. Further grievances include the passage of foreign interference laws, the call for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, and speaking on the South China Sea as well as on human rights allegations in Xinjiang. [CNN] [9 News]

The Chinese rebuff came just a day after Australia and Japan agreed in principle on a defense pact which will increase joint military exercises in key geo-strategic waterways, including in the South and East China seas, and also allows the stationing of troops in each other’s countries. [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3

Relations between Beijing and Canberra have been spiraling downwards since Australian Prime Minister Morrison demanded an international investigation into the outbreak of the coronavirus in China and after Huawei was excluded from Australia’s national 5G network over national security concerns. In response Beijing imposed trade bans and restrictions on imports of various Australian commodities.

24 November 2020

US and its allies urge Beijing to reinstate disqualified Hong Kong lawmakers

(dql) Foreign ministers from Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the US last week issued a joint statement calling on Beijing to reinstate four Hong Kong opposition legislators which were disqualified by the city’s government over charges of supporting the independence of the city.  [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]

The five eyes alliance’s ministers expressed “serious concerns” over China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators, calling the resolution part of a concerted campaign to silence political dissent which was triggered by the Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law for Hong Kong in July. [South China Morning Post

China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to buke the statement, warning “[w]hether it’s Five Eyes or Ten Eyes, as long as they dare to hurt China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, they will get their eyes poked and blinded.” [The Star]

24 November 2020

China at G20 reassures commitment to global efforts and cooperation to fight pandemic

(dql) Speaking at the G20 summit, which was dominated by the pandemic issue, Chinese President called for a “global firewall against COVID-19”, reassuring China’s commitment to providing assistance and support to other developing countries, and to contributing to making vaccines a “global public good accessible and affordable to people around the world.”

Pointing to lessons learned from pandemic and its impact on the global economy, he stressed the need to restore the secure and smooth operation of global industrial and supply chains as well as the need to reduce tariffs and barriers, and to explore the liberalization of trade of key medical supplies.

He pledged that China as “a builder of global peace, a contributor to global development and a defender of international order,” is willing to pursue peaceful coexistence and common development with all countries.


24 November 2020

China considers joining CPTPP 

(dql) Speaking at the virtually held APEC summit last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China is “proactively considering” joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the trade agreement covering 11 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam) and accounting for more than 13% of the global GDP. [SupChina]

The announcement comes shortly after China joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with the ten ASEAN member states, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]

As the US is neither party to the CPTPP, from which President Donald Trump pulled out shortly after his election in 2016, nor to the RCEP, analysts describe the deals as a geopolitical victory for China which will further widen and deepen its influence in Asia. The deals further send a strong message to the world that China, while emphasizing domestic consumption for its economic growth, does not turn inwards in a protectionist manner but is committed to free trade and multilateralism. It is believed that the deals pave the way for further trade agreements among the member countries, such as one between China, South Korea, and Japan. [CNBC] [Foreign Policy] [Jakarta Post]

Against this background, analysts see pressure mounting on President-elect Joe Biden to consider to join these two trade deals, too. [The Diplomat] [Bloomberg] [Nikkei Asian Review]

24 November 2020

China: Moon mission launched 

(dql) China launched a spacecraft to the moon, expected to be the first country to bring back lunar rock and soil samples, in a first in over four decades.

The launch is the latest move in the country’s ambitious space program, which Beijing hopes will lead to an international lunar research station and eventually to a human colony on the moon. 

So far, only the US and Russia have retrieved lunar samples back in the 1970s. [New Yoprk Times


24 November 2020

China: Advancing stealth capacities

(dql) According to Chinese military experts, China has developed a meter wave anti-stealth radar capable of detecting advanced stealth aircraft and guiding missiles to strike on stealthy fighter jets. [EurAsian Times

Meanwhile, Chinese scientists have claimed breakthroughs in an engineered material that would advance stealth technology used in fighter jets of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), citing successful experiments with metamaterials designed to escape radars with wave-bending powers. [South China Morning Post]

24 November 2020

Taiwan: License of pro-Beijing news channel not renewed 

(nm) Last week, Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) announced it will not renew the broadcasting license of cable news station Chung T’ien News (CTi News), effectively closing it down from December 11 when its current licence expires. According to the NCC, the unanimous decision is based on CTi’s repeated violations of broadcast regulations and failures of the channel’s internal discipline and control mechanisms, in particular the failure to fact check news as well as the channel’s largest shareholder’s involvement in the editorial process. 

CTi News is owned by pro-China Want Want China Times Media Group, which belongs to Taiwanese tycoon Tsai Eng-meng, who openly shows support for the Chinese Communist Party. The channel is among the harshest critics of President Tsai Ing-wen and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). As one of the most-watched cable news networks, it is widely considered as a vocal supporter of unification with China. 

Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), criticized the rejection accusing the NCC of using political power to interfere with freedom of the press. The DPP, meanwhile, endorsed the NCC’s decision, citing the protection of Taiwan’s freedom and democracy in the wake of fake news produced and circulated CTi News. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) echoed this claim arguing that Taiwan has become a “victim of growing media interference” from China. It called the rejection regrettable but insisted that it does not violate press freedom. [BloombergReporters Without Borders] [Taipei Times 1] [Taipei Times 2]

The NCC’s decision marks the first time Taiwan has shut a television news station since the regulatory body had been set up in 2006. 

24 November 2020

China: Hong Kong more opposition lawmakers arrested

(dql) Three opposition lawmakers in the Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), the city’s parliament, have been arrested over charges of contempt in the legislature and intent to cause harm to others. Months ago, the arrested lawmakers disrupted LegCo hearings on the now-approved National Anthem ordinance, which criminalizes any insult to or abuse of the Chinese national anthem. [AP]

The arrests are the latest in a string of arrests in recent weeks and months. Earlier this month, seven pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested over their actions in another chaotic legislative meeting in May. [Yahoo News]

The recent arrests come shortly after the Hong Kong government disqualified four opposition lawmakers following the central government’s adoption of a resolution that allows the city government to oust LegCo members who are deemed unpatriotic or acting in a manner that poses a threat to national security. In response, 15 pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en bloc. [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]


24 November 2020

Asian countries divided over UN death penalty moratorium

(dql) In a poll on a resolution which calls for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment eleven countries from the Asia-Pacific region were among the 39 countries which voted against the resolution in the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. They include Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, China, India, Japan, the Maldives, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and Tonga.

120 countries voted for the resolution, including over 15 Asia-Pacific countries. Among them are Sri Lanka and the Philippines. 24 countries abstained from the vote. Asia-Pacific countries among these are Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. [Human Rights Watch]

17 November 2020

Malaysia not to extradite Uyghurs to China

(nd) In a parliamentary reply that was not publicly announced, Malaysia stated it would not extradite Uyghurs, even if there was a request directly from China, in contrast to neighboring Thailand and Indonesia, which deported three Uyghurs recently.

Despite a growing persecution of the Muslim minority group, even Muslim leaders in the region turned their heads, as China for most of them is the largest trading partner, and now a key partner in developing a Covid-19 vaccination. With Indonesia also struggling with separatist groups, it is reluctant to set a precedent of foreign interference in internal affairs, according to a source at the Australian Lowry institute. Given the necessary ties to China for Malaysia, this step, which possibly angers China, was labeled bold and a possible signal of Muslim-majority countries stepping up to protect Uyghurs.

Uyghurs fled China via Southeast Asia from 2010 to 2016. In Mahathir Mohamad’s time as prime minister, 11 jailed Uyghurs were released, despite a request to deliver them by China. Before that, with Najib Razak as prime minister, at least 29 Uyghurs were deported to China, with six of them pending asylum status, which HRW referred to as a violation of international law. [South China Morning Post]

17 November 2020

Bangladesh: Cabinet approves Chinese bid for waste-to-electricity plant in Dhaka

(lm) The Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase has approved eight procurement proposals, including a 25-year deal with a Chinese company to build the country’s first large-scale waste-to-energy plant in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. [energy bangla]

The power project will be implemented under a tripartite agreement between the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), the state-owned Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), and China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), which will set up an incineration-based plant at its own cost on build-own-operates basis. Accordingly, the DNCC will ensure adequate supply of garbage for generating electricity for the project, while the BPDB will purchase electricity for a 25-year period at a fixed tariff. [The Financial Express]

17 November 2020

ASEAN signs RCEP, biggest trade agreement globally

(nd) The 37th ASEAN Summit concluded past Sunday with some 30 declarations, statements, plan-of-actions and summaries, covering a wide range of issues including stalled connectivity initiatives, environmental concerns, regional trade and integration, multilateral security frameworks, among others.

A dominant issue at the Summit was a joint response to the COVID-19 pandemic where cooperation initiatives were announced and put into operation, including the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund, the Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies, the ASEAN Standard Operating Procedures in response to Public Health Emergencies and the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases. [Vietnam Investment Review] [Malay Mail]

Opening the Summit, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addressed the South China Sea issue, commenting ASEAN member states were not “drawn into the maelstroms” of the US-Chinese rivalry yet, but challenges to multilateral systems remain urgent.

At the sidelines of the Summit, the ASEAN member states along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), resulting in the world’s biggest trade agreement [See also AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4], covering around 30% of the global GDP. India pulled out last year. The agreement will rather focus on trade and the practicalities of commerce, foreseeably to the detriment of labor and environmental issues.

Following a retreat from the region and uncertainties caused by an erratic foreign policy, the US engagement was put into question for a long time, enabling China to enhance its position. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to continue Barack Obama’s stance on Asia and make it a pivotal region of the US foreign policy. [South China Morning Post 1] [Radio Free Asia]

The trade deal puts China in a comfortable position in the region, with the possibility to shape it according to its rules, solidifying China’s geopolitical agenda together with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).The Trump administration was represented by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien who stressed the importance ASEAN-US ties in times of the global pandemic. [South China Morning Post 2] [9News]

Malaysia’s prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said he respects India’s decision but noted India was a strategic partner for ASEAN, and their trade volume increased, with India being the sixth largest trading partner. In order to facilitate trade, the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA) was proposed, which is being reviewed currently. [Bernama]

17 November 2020

15 Asian leaders sign RCEP agreement, while India decides to stay out of the pact

(lm) After a meeting in September had yielded ‘significant progress’ towards the world’s largest trade pact [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1], ministers from 15 Asia-Pacific countries inked on November 15 the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Building on existing free trade agreements, the 15 countries – 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus the bloc`s five major trading partners Japan, China, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand – will establish common rules for e-commerce, trade and intellectual property. [The Straits Times 1] [South China Morning Post]

ASEAN leaders had originally proposed the idea of an RCEP in 2012. Talks had begun the following year, and India, an original negotiating participant of the RCEP, was expected to be a signatory nation. At the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok last November, however, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that New Delhi had decided to withdraw from the RCEP over fears the elimination of tariffs would make it difficult to protect domestic industries from China, whose low-priced exports are highly competitive in Indian markets [see AiR No. 45, November/2019, 1AiR No. 46, November/2019, 2]. According to Indian officials, the thinking in New Delhi over the pact has not changed, as the current structure of the RCEP is considered to disadvantage the import-dependent nation. [The Indian Express] [The Straits Times 2]

Seeking an early conclusion of the RCEP negotiations, China had previously floated the idea of an RCEP without India, but other countries, notably Japan, have repeatedly called on India to return to the negotiations. In a ministerial declaration, the RCEP leaders last week reiterated that the door remains open for India to join and restart negotiations. While China’s participation in the deal had already been proving difficult for India, the Galwan Valley clash in June [see AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] has further soured relations between the two countries, leading to a backlash against Chinese products in India. [Asia Times]

17 November 2020

India, China are breaking the deadlock in the Himalayas, according to Indian media reports

(lm) After months of fitful progress to resolve their high-altitude border stand-off, a new disagreement has erupted between the neighboring nations, only this time it’s over a purported resolution to the impasse. Quoting senior sources, the Indian media has been reporting since November 11 that the two countries are currently considering a reciprocal disengagement plan for the North Bank of Pangong Tso, a glacial lake at 4,242m. The plan, which is yet to be agreed upon by both sides involves creating no-patrol zones, pulling back tanks and artillery, and using drones to verify the withdrawal. [NDTV] [Financial Express]

The reports come just days after senior military commanders from both sides held the latest round of talks on November 6. According to an initial readout, a breakthrough had eluded the talks, as both sides had ruled out the possibility of drawing down troops near the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between Indian and Chinese claims in the region [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. [Deutsche Welle]

According to Indian media reports, disengagement is envisioned as a time-bound, three-step process to dissolve tensions in the ‘Fingers’ region of the northern bank of Pangong Tso. The region has high, finger-like mountain spurs above the water, and control of these spur is disputed by both countries [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1.

During the first phase, China would dismantle its defense structures at the Pangong Tso where its troops are occupying an eight kilometer stretch of land once patrolled exclusively by Indian troops [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. Further, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would withdraw from Finger 8, while Indian troops would retread to a position between Fingers 2 and 3, effectively restoring the status quo ante. Thereafter, the zone would be declared a demilitarized ‘no patrol’ or ‘buffer’ zone. After the conclusion of phase two, during which tanks and heavy weaponry that had been brought into the area would be pulled back, both sides would withdrawal their troops from specific areas overlooking the south banks of the Pangong Tso and declare this area a ‘no patrol’ zone, too. The plan would conclude with the verification of the disengagement process by both the sides. [Al Jazeera] [South China Morning Post 1]

The Global Times, a state-backed Chinese tabloid, initially cited nearly identical sources, suggesting that both sides were close to an agreement for the Pangong Tso-Chushul area. On Thursday, however, the tabloid then rebutted the Indian media reports, calling them ‘not accurate’ and ‘not helpful for the two sides to reach their established goals’. [Hindustan Times] [The Global Times]

Against the backdrop of the Global Times’ change of heart, observers suggest that the Indian reports may have been premature, rather than inaccurate. Pointing out that the Depsang Plains is not part of the purported disengagement plan, they argue that Beijing may well string out the process in order to test the Indian response. [the quint]

Among possible reasons for a Chinese backtracking, the fact that New Delhi will be disproportionately affected by a premature withdrawal of troops seems the most consequential. With rivers freezing, by mid-November travel within the Indian territory of Ladakh will be easy but snow will block roads to the region, severely compromising the deployment, movement and response time of Indian forces. China, by contrast, has developed formidable infrastructure throughout the Tibet autonomous region. It includes a network of thousands of kilometers of fiber optics, small aperture terminal satellite stations and modern highways and high-speed railways that can rapidly deploy the PLA. [South China Morning Post 2]

17 November 2020

East Asia Summit: Deepening cooperation in pandemic response

(dql) Leaders of participating countries at the East Asia Summit on past Saturday stressed the need for countries across the Asia-Pacific to cooperate in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the current economic crisis.

The Summit brought together Asean’s 10 members plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States. [Straits Times]

17 November 2020

Taiwanese to file case with ECtHR over being labelled “Chinese” by Norway

(ef) Taiwanese citizens living in Norway announced that they would file a case with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) over Norway designate their nationality as Chinese on their residency permits.

Since 2010, Norwegian authorities have listed Taiwanese citizens as “Chinese”. In May, a district court ruled that the Norwegian government does not recognize Taiwan as it adheres to the “One-China”-policy, thus the residency permits have to label the Taiwanese citizens as “Chinese”. Last week, the Norwegian Supreme Court upheld that decision.   

The Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) stated that Taiwan’s representative to Sweden has been instructed to file a complaint with the Norwegian government immediately. [Taiwan News] [Focus Taiwan]

17 November 2020

WHO admits censoring the words “Taiwan” and “China” on social media

(ef) The World Health Organization (WHO) admitted to using content filters on its social media accounts that block comments mentioning “Taiwan” or “China”. Denying accusations of political motivations behind the move, the WHO argued that the filters were used to avoid “internet trolling, spamming and fake accounts producing malicious content”. [Focus Taiwan]

Expelled from WHO in 1972 and excluded from the body’s World Health Assembly meetings after the China gained UN recognition and took its seat, Taiwan was able to participate in those meeting as an observer from 2009-2016. However, since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence leaning ruling Democratic Progressive Party assumed presidency, China has been successful in obstructing Taiwan being invited to the WHA meetings. 

17 November 2020

Cross-strait relations: Beijing to compile a blacklist of “diehard Taiwan separatists”

(dql/ef) According to Chinese officials specialized in cross-strait affairs, China is preparing a blacklist of “diehard Taiwan separatists” targeting anybody who openly advocates Taiwan’s independence, pushes aggressively for Taiwan independence or funds separatists generously. The list aims to send out a warning to Taiwan not to get too close to the US. The list is expected to be made public after the inauguration of the next US President. [South China Morning Post]

The revelation comes shortly after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a public interview said that “Taiwan has not been a part of China,” adding that “that was recognized with the work that the Reagan administration did to lay out the policies that the United States has adhered to now for three-and-a-half decades.” [Taipei Times]


17 November 2020

China-Africa relations: Beijing committed to strengthening ties with African nations

(dql) On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reassured his country’s commitment to continuing to elevate the China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership, and to “ achieve greater success in our journey of building a China-Africa community with a shared future.” He also announced that China will provide financial aid for the creation of an Africa-wide free-trade area the would span 55 nations with a combined GDP of 3.4 trillion USD and around 1.3 billion consumers. [CGTN] [Korea Times]

The FOCAC is an official forum between China and all states in Africa, with the exception of Eswatini. At latest of hitherto three FOCAC summits in 2018, Beijing pledged a 60 billion USD package of aid, investment, and loans to Africa to Africa. [Brookings]

For current data demonstrating China’s rapid expansion of its oil resources in Africa as part of its efforts to increase its global energy influence, see Haley Zaremba in [Oil Price].

17 November 2020

China-Australia relations: Standoff over stranded ship carrying Australian coal

(dql) Australia has urged Beijing to resolve a standoff involving an Indian ship carrying a huge consignment of 160.000 tons of Australian coal that arrived at a Chinese port in mid-June but has been waiting since then for permission to berth. Canberra cited concerns about the Indian seafarers’ welfare on board, while appealing to Beijing to cease “what seems to be a recurring targeting of some Australian industries”. [The Guardian]

Chinese authorities have so far provided medical assistance for the seafarers, but cited Covid-19 restrictions for denying the ship’s berthing. [Financial Express]

The incident comes at a time when relations between China and Australia has been spiraling downwards since Australian Prime Minister Morrison demanded an international investigation into the outbreak of the coronavirus in China and after Huawei was excluded from Australia’s national 5G network over national security concerns. In response Beijing imposed bans on imports of various Australian commodities. In a latest development, China has signaled that it will halt imports of Australian wine. [Asia Times] [ABC]


17 November 2020

China-US relations: Trump bans US investment in Chinese military-linked firms amid Beijing joining RCEP

(dql) In the latest of move against China’s economy, US President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order banning American investments in Chinese firms the US government designates as being owned or controlled by the Chinese military. The order is targeting over 30 Chinese companies, including tech firms and large state-owned construction companies such as China Telecom, China Mobile and Hikvision, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of video surveillance equipment. The order will come into force in January. [VoA] [White House]

Meanwhile, US President-elect Joe Biden reaffirmed earlier statements, made during the election campaign, that US needed to negotiate with allies to establish global trading rules to counter China’s growing influence in the global economy “so that we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes because they are the only game in town.” [Aljazeera]

The statement comes a day after the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was signed in Hanoi creating the world’s largest trade agreement, covering 30% of the global economy and a third of its population, and bringing together 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including the ten ASEAN member states as well as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The RCEP is widely seen as a major setback for the US influence in Asia and a boost for China’s position in Asia. [CNN][Reuters] [Quartz]

17 November 2020

China’s latest jets are surpassing Russia’s top fighters

(dql) According to findings of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a UK-based think tank, China has surpassed Russia in various aspects of combat aircraft development, including sensors, datalinks, weapons, and low-observable technology, while Russia is ahead only in aircraft engines. 

RUSI also states that, due to Beijing’s structural industrial and budgetary advantages, Moscow is unlikely to regain areas of competitive advantage once lost. The think tank even forecasts that in the 2020s Russia might even purchase Chinese sensor and missile technology. [Flight Global] [Forbes]

17 November 2020

China to proactively shape military events?

(dql) Signaling China’s growing confidence in its military capacities, the vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, the country’s supreme leading organ of the armed forces, called on China to “broaden its strategic approaches to catch up, surpass and accelerate the transition from passively adapting to war to actively designing how a war is fought.” 

The statement has been viewed by analysts as a major strategic shift for China’s military, with Beijing stepping up efforts to seize the initiative and put itself in a position to proactively shape military events through the introduction of new approaches and technologies, including AI, autonomous systems, hypersonics, and space warfare. [Yahoo News]

In a related assessment, Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS), the country’s Defense Ministry think tank, warned in its 2021 China Security Report that under President Xi Jinping China’s military has put emphasis on the “growing importance of preemptive attacks” and shifted its aim towards “winning informatized warfare that makes effective use of new domains, including space, cyber, and electromagnetic.” [NIDS]

17 November 2020

China: Citizen journalist indicted over Wuhan Covid reporting

(dql) Detained since May for reporting on the coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan, Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan has been now formally indicted on charges of spreading false information on various social media platforms. The prosecution has suggested a sentence of four to five years. She was arrested for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”, an umbrella term, frequently used against critics and activists inside China. [The Guardian]

17 November 2020

China: New anti-trust draft law targets Chinese tech giants

(dql) In a move to reign in monopolistic behavior of the country’s top internet firms, China last week announced a set of draft rules to reform the country’s existing anti-trust laws. The new regulations, proposed by the China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), tackle especially practices deemed as enabling monopolies of online giants. 

One such practice is forcing merchants to “choose one of two” online marketplaces on which to sell their products. The “Choose one of two” practice is widely seen as source of the monopolistic position enjoyed by e-commerce giants such as Alibaba and Pinduoduo, the largest interactive e-commerce platform in China and in the world. The draft rules label such a practice as anti-competitive behavior.

Another practice targeted by the new regulations is pricing these companies’ products or services differently according to customer purchasing power, consumption history, or user preference which is now labeled monopolistic behavior. [Tech Crunch] [Technode]

In an immediate effect, shares of China’s biggest tech companies tumbled for two consecutive days, wiping out over 250 billion USD of their stock market value. [CNN]

For an assessment of the reform on China’s antitrust law as the latest in a string of recent “crackdowns” under President Xi Jinping to stabilize the power of the Chinese Communist Party, see [Bloomberg].


17 November 2020

China: Hong Kong opposition lawmakers resign en mass

(dql) All 15 opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) resigned last week in response to a decision of the city’s government to disqualify four Hong Kong legislators from the opposition. The disqualification followed a resolution of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the country’s to legislative body, which empowers the Hong Kong government to disqualify Hong Kong lawmakers for publicizing or supporting independence of the city, soliciting interference of foreign countries, and pursuing “other activities that endanger national security.” The resignation leaves the parliament effectively without an opposition. [Reuters]

Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the government’s move with the need of a parliament “composed of patriots”, adding that a legislature without opposition was “nothing to be ashamed of,” allowing the government to pass bills “more efficiently.” [The Guardian]

Critics see the lawmakers’ disqualification as a further step towards Beijing’s full control over Hong Kong since the imposition of the National Security Law for Hong Kong in July, signaling the end of the ‘one country, two systems’ model, under which the city has been enjoying a certain degree of autonomy and spaces of debate and dissent. [BBC] [Hong Kong Free Press] [Human Rights Watch]

10 November 2020

Laos: Demands to investigate pollution from Chinese and Vietnamese farms

(py) Residents of southeastern Laos’ Sekong province urged government authorities to investigate Chinese and Vietnamese-owned farms over their extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  An official of the Department of Planning and Investment announced to investigate, adding that due to the COVID-19 pandemic many investors have not returned to Laos. The concerned banana plantations contributed to US$ 100 million in annual export in 2017 and are a major source of employment in rural Laos. Yet, banana farming is infamous for illness and deaths among workers due to an exposure to chemicals. Additionally, the run-off from the farms polluted near water sources, killing fish and contaminating drinking water. [Radio Free Asia] [China Dialogue]

10 November 2020

Philippines to support Chinese candidate for ICJ

(nd)  Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin told the UN mission to support the Chinese candidate to fill one of the five vacant seats at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) next year. Earlier, the Philippines  nominated a Japanese Judge, commenting now it is possible to support more than one candidate. The ICJ is composed of 15 judges elected for a nine-year term, with a possible re-election.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been working towards better relations with China, despite disputes in the South China Sea. [South China Morning Post]

10 November 2020

Philippines: Resource-rich Reed Bank can be explored without Chinese company

(nd) Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s lift of a six-year ban on oil and gas exploration in the contested South China Sea, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi announced PXP Energy Corp. could proceed without partnering with China. A unit of the company holds the right to drill at the potentially resource-rich Reed Bank – part of the Indonesian EEZ -, which was negotiating with state-run China National Offshore Oil Corp.

The ban was imposed 2014 due to territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Duterte lifted the moratorium after he defended an international arbitration tribunal’s decision in 2016, which rejected China’s claims in the disputed waters. According to Cusi, the lift of the ban has no effect on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China from 2018 to jointly explore the resources in the area. [Radio Free Asia]

Meanwhile, the idea to deploy Filipino fishermen as militia forces in the South China Sea has been put on hold, according to defense officials, referring there was no state of war with China. The idea originated in a Senate finance committee hearing in October. Philippine national security adviser downplayed the security threat posed by China and named the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, New People’s Army, as well as the corona virus pandemic as biggest national threats, highlighting China as a market and economic partnership. [South China Morning Post]

10 November 2020

ASEAN and China discuss humane mutual treatment of fishermen

(jn) ASEAN members and China discussed ways to promote cooperation in humane treatment of fishermen as part of the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). The DOC of 2002 obligates the parties intensify efforts to build trust and confidence and ensure just and humane treatment of all persons who are either in danger or distress at sea. [Hanoi Times]

10 November 2020

China, Nepal deny Nepali opposition’s landgrab accusations

(lm) China and Nepal denied on November 3 accusations of Nepali opposition lawmakers who alleged Beijing had annexed dozens of hectares from the district of Humla bordering Tibet, beginning in May. [The Straits Times]

Earlier this month, a fact-finding team of Nepal’s main opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC), had visited the northern border of Nepal and concluded that China has in fact encroached approximately two kilometers of Nepali land. Thereafter, the NC accused the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s (NCP) of trying to cover-up the issue by ignoring accumulated evidence. [AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]

In September, Nepal’s Foreign Ministry announced an inter-ministerial team in 2016 had already found the buildings to be sited one kilometer within Chinese territory [see AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]. Following the announcement, students in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu staged protests in front of the Chinese embassy [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1].

10 November 2020

Bangladesh aims to establish rail and road links to China

(lm) Bangladesh has approached the Chinese embassy in Dhaka for establishing rail and road links between the two countries via Myanmar, Bangladesh’s Minister for Foreign Affairs said on October 29. While speaking at a webinar organized by a local think tank, he also fenced off claims that Bangladesh was falling into a Chinese ‘debt trap.” Further elaborating on the issue, the minister also said that Chinese loans only comprise a small fraction of Bangladesh’s total foreign debt. [The Policy Times] [The Daily Star]

In August, talks between Bangladesh and China on a loan deal to implement a proposed irrigation project on the Teesta River had entered an advanced stage, leaving flat India which had hitherto initiated a series of measures to regain long-standing good relations with its eastern neighbor [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

While the rejuvenation project marks the first time that Beijing constructs a mega river management project in Bangladesh, it is just the latest in a series of events making China the largest investor in Bangladesh. For a start, in June, China announced it would provide duty free market access for 97 percent of Bangladeshi goods [see AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]. Outdoing India, China then won the tender to build an airport terminal at Sylhet last month, and was able to conclude several defense agreements — which include an ultra-modern submarine base, a new naval base in Patkhauli and the delivery of a Chinese Corvette. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

10 November 2020

India, China: Breakthrough eludes eighth round of border talks

(lm) A breakthrough eluded senior Indian and Chinese military commanders who met on November 6 for the next round of military talks. On a more positive note, both sides agreed to ensure that their frontline troops exercise restraint and further agreed to have another round of meetings. It is worth noting that the Indian delegation was no longer led by Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, who had hitherto represented the Indian Army but was appointed Commandant of the Indian Military Academy earlier. [The Tribune] [The Hindu]

The eighth round of talks assumed added significance as any large-scale redeployment of troops or de-induction will need to be carried out before heavy winter sets in. With rivers freezing, by mid-November travel within Ladakh will be easy but snow will block roads to the region, leaving airlifts as the only means of transporting troops and supplies in and out. Notwithstanding the ongoing talks to resolve the border issue, both armies thus continue preparing for an extended winter deployment in mostly uninhabited terrain. [Mint] [Times Now News]

The Indian Army has received the initial consignment of extreme cold weather clothing from the United States [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. Moreover, New Delhi deployed two additional divisions from plains, as well as one mountain division which has been training for high-altitude operations, to the Line of Actual Control (LAC). In the same vein, China has shortlisted nearly two dozen private companies to supply advanced unmanned weaponry and graphene clothing to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) regiments deployed along the long high-altitude border areas with India. Against this backdrop, the troop deployment by both sides is very unlikely to be diluted, as a militarized line separating the two requires more than just tiding over the logistics this winter. [Hindustan Times] [The Times of India]

The current situation also found mention in remarks made by India’s Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat in his address at New Delhi’s National Defense College on November 6. While indicating that a full-scale military confrontation with Beijing was low on probability, Rawat cautioned that ‘border confrontations, transgressions, unprovoked tactical military actions’ could spiral into a larger conflict. Further elaborating on the issue, the Chief of Defense Staff said that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was going to face ‘unanticipated consequences’, as New Delhi would not accept any shift in the LAC. [The Straits Times]

During the previous meeting held on October 12, both sides had agreed to firm up a roadmap for defusing tensions along the LAC. The proposals included earmarking all friction points as demilitarized areas with mutually agreeable buffer zones created between the two armies, and delineating the limit of patrolling accordingly to prevent any escalation [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. The major friction points along the de-facto border include the Finger 4 area of Pangong Tso (a glacial lake at 4,242m), certain key features on the southern bank of the lake, the Y-junction at Depsang Plains, as well as the Galwan Valley and Hot Springs areas. [The Print 1]

Beijing had also presented a consolidated proposal, which included withdrawing tanks and artillery guns from forward positions back to their peacetime locations, Indian troops vacating strategic heights in the southern banks of Pangong Tso lake and making Finger 4 in the northern banks a no-go area. On its part, the Indian side had demanded a comprehensive disengagement of troops from all friction points, including the Depsang Plains. Read between the lines, China seems focused only on the southern banks of Pangong Tso and is offering partial withdrawal from northern banks as a sweetener. [The Print 2]

Against this backdrop, it is worth recalling that the high-altitude standoff began in early May, when New Delhi was surprised to find China’s army had built forward bases, occupied mountaintops and deployed thousands of troops to prevent Indian patrols [see AiR No. 22, June/2020, 1AiR No. 19, May/2020, 2]. By July, talks to restore peace and smoothen bilateral relations had hit a roadblock, as both sides continued to deploy additional weapons and troops, already preparing for the long-haul. While Chinese troops had disengaged and retreated from the Galwan Valley and Hot Springs, they fortified their positions at the Pangong Tso Finger area, reinforcing physical infrastructure and airlifting additional troops [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4].

On the night of August 29, then, India surprised China, mobilizing additional forces to occupy strategic heights and features along the south bank of Pangong Tso. Thousands of Indian soldiers had climbed up mountain peaks along a stretch of more than 40 square kilometers for about six hours after they saw the Chinese forces had made some ingress, violating existing agreements. China was swift to reject the allegations and accused Indian soldiers of trespassing [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1].

The bottom line is that China has pushed further into territory once patrolled exclusively by India and is now occupying about 50 square kilometers of land at Pangong Tso and another 250 in the Depsang Plains, according to Indian officials. [South China Morning Post]

10 November 2020

China: South American countries agree to jointly fight Chinese illegal fishing

(dql) In attempt to combat illegal fishing by huge Chinese fleets off their coasts, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have announced to join hands to take measures to “to prevent, discourage and jointly confront” illegal fishing near their exclusive economic zones in the Pacific. The South American countries also agreed to strengthen information exchange “in real time.” [Merco Press]

The announcement comes amid growing concerns over overfishing and capture of endangered species by China, after some 300 Chinese fishing vessels swarmed around the Galápagos Islands from July to September. They are believed to have logged more than 73.000 hours of fishing between July 13 and August 13 which accounts for 99% of the fishing activity on the Galapagos Marine Reserve’s per perimeter. [AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]

10 November 2020

China-Australia relations further spiraling downwards

(dql) In a move further worsening already soured relations between China and Australia, the latter is expected to sign a defense pact with Japan during Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s planned visit to Tokyo in the next weeks. The pact is believed to contain a reciprocal agreement to permit the two countries to base troops in each other’s territory, as well as mutual training arrangements. [The Times]

The pact comes at a time when Chinese-Australian relations are declining to historical lows, with Beijing increasing economic pressure on Canberra since it has called for a full investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in April. Currently China is threatening to ban the import of at least seven Australian commodities, worth 6 billion USD. [7 News]

Meanwhile, the Australian navy joined Indian, Japanese, and American warships for the Malabar exercises that kicked off last week in the Indian Ocean. Canberra’s participation after a hiatus of 13 years is a clear sign of the increasing strategic convergence of the four Quad-countries in the face of China’s assertiveness in Asia.

Conducted for the first time in 1992 as a bilateral India-US drill, Japan joined the drills as permanent member in 2015. India’s decision to include Australia in this year come against the background of its six-month long military standoff with China in the Himalayas. [VoA]

For an account of the deterioration of Chinese-Australian relations over the course of this year, see Eleanor Albert in [The Diplomat].

10 November 2020

China-US relations: Pompeo removes East Turkestan Islamic Movement from US terror list, imposes sanctions against Hong Kong officials

(dql) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced  that the US will no longer designate the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a “terrorist organization” and remove it from its terror list, citing the lack of evidence of the group’s existence for more than a decade. Under its ‘war on terror’, the US listed ETIM as a terrorist group in 2004.

ETIM, an Islamic extremist organization founded by Uyghur jihadists in Western China, is accused by Beijing of separatism and terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. [Aljazeera]

While US-based Uyghur Human Rights Project welcomed the decision as “long-overdue”, critics see it as “inherently political,” following “a long-established pattern” of defining terrorism according to geopolitical preferences. [UHRP] [RT]

Meanwhile, Pompeo announced that sanctions have been levied against four Chinese officials belonging Hong Kong’s security establishment over their alleged role in the implementation of China’s National Security Law in Hong Kong. The sanctioned include the deputy director of the Office for Safeguarding National Security, newly established under the law, the head of the National Security Division of the Hong Kong Police Force, a senior superintendent, and the deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Under the sanctions they are banned from entering the US while their assets within US jurisdiction are blocked. [VoA]

In an earlier move, similar sanctions were imposed on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other high-ranking officials in August. [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]

10 November 2020

Chinese state media on Biden’s election: China-US relations not to improve

(dql) While the Chinese government has yet been silent on Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election, Chinese state media were quick comment on Sino-US relations under the new president. Global Times cited Chinese scholars cautioning against “put[ting] too much expectation on Biden,” arguing that “to contain and confront China is a strategic consensus between the two parties of the US.” Similarly, an editorial in China Daily suggests that improving relations with China is currently out of question for both the Democrat and Republican Party alike.” [Global Times] [China Daily]

While Biden has not laid out a detailed China strategy, statements made during the election campaign indicate that he will continue Donald Trump’s tough approach towards China. Calling Chinese President Xi Jinping a “thug,” he pledged to push for an international campaign to “pressure, isolate and punish China.” He labeled Beijing’s actions against Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang a “genocide,” calling for a “united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.” [Reuters]

10 November 2020

China sends ‘6G” experimental satellite into orbit

(dql) Last week China launched a Long March 6 rocket, successfully sending 13 satellites into orbit. Among the satellites was one remote sensing satellite whose platform will also test communication technology operating in the terahertz range, a potential successor to 5G communications. []

The launch marks China’s 32nd launch so far in 2020.


10 November 2020

China: Powers of coastguard to be expanded

(dql) China’s legislature last week issued a draft law to reform the country’s maritime law and to expand the powers of China’s coastguard. Among others, the revised law would allow the coastguard to use weapons against foreign ships deemed to be involved in unlawful activities in the country’s waters. It also authorizes other measures, including detention and towing, to be taken against foreign vessels considered to have illegally entered Chinese waters as well as the dismantling of buildings and structures and deployment of floating devices on islands claimed by China. [Nikkei Asian Review] [South China Morning Post]

The Chinese coastguard was re-established in 2013 as the sole civilian law enforcer on the sea after a merger with other maritime administrative institutions, in a move to integrate China’s maritime forces. In 2018 civilian control of the coastguard shifted to military control, placing it under the command of the Central Military Commission.

10 November 2020

China’s expansion of surveillance system

(dql) An analysis of Chinafile, an online magazine published by the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society, sheds light on the expansion of the surveillance system in China over the past decade. From 2010-2019, government procurement of surveillance-related technical equipment and maintenance services increased close to 19-fold, while purchases to expand the ‘Sharp Eyes’ surveillance project alone amounted to more than 2.1 billion USD. [Chinafile] [South China Morning Post]

Launched in May 2015, ‘Sharp Eyes’ aims to deliver by 2020 “100% video surveillance coverage” in core public areas and major industries, including transportation, environmental protection, and urban management, in all rural regions across the country, reinforced by “full cross-network sharing of surveillance data, and government participation at all levels.”  

‘Sharp Eyes’ refers to Mao Zedong’s statement “The People have sharp eyes,” which became a widespread slogan during the Cultural Revolution. [China Digital]


10 November 2020

China: State family planning set to fade out 

(dql) In the five-year plan endorsed by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee late October [AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1] the term ‘family planning’ was dropped. It used to be a central part of previous five-year plans.

Analysts see the omission as a sign that the government’s family planning policy will fade out allowing Chinese families to decide by themselves how many children they want to have.

In late 2015 China its infamous ‘one-child policy’ and allowed Chinese couples to have two children, in attempt to bring about an increase on newborns. However, it yielded no success, with the number of newborns in China sinking to a historically low level in 2019. [South China Morning Post]

China is currently conducting its 7th population census, with 7 million census takers deployed to collect data about the country’s population for over a month. [Aljazeera]



3 November 2020

Singapore easing entry measures for travelers from China and Australia’s Victoria

(py) Following a reciprocal green lane between Singapore and Indonesia earlier this month [See also No. 41, October/2020, 2],  travelers from China and the state of Victoria in Australia will be able to enter Singapore if they are tested negative on arrival, without being subject to quarantine. Earlier, Singapore announced similar unilateral measures for travels from Brunei, New Zealand, Vietnam and Australia excluding Victoria, as well as bilateral green lane arrangements for business or official purposes from Japan, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Germany, with ongoing negotiations for Thailand and Hong Kong. [The Strait Times]

3 November 2020

What Vietnam expects from the United States after the 2020 US election

(jn) Depending on the outcome of the US presidential election, the prospects for the burgeoning US-Vietnamese relations and the US involvement in South East Asia may change, or perhaps not so much, according to a recent analysis for The Diplomat.

In economic and security matters, both countries have continued to inch towards each other in recent years, with notable exceptions. The US are Vietnam’s biggest export market and also a strategic partner that is increasing its presence in Vietnam’s neighborhood and even providing for training and security assistance. On the other hand, Vietnam remains as cautious about the Trump administration’s abrasive trade diplomacy, as it worries about being ground between the superpower rivalry of the US and China. China not only continues to be Vietnam’s largest trading partner but is also close in political and historical terms – something one can easily forget over the frictions in the South China Sea. This means that Vietnam cannot afford the single-minded security approach currently pursued by the US due to the multifaceted relationship with China. While Vietnam would welcome continued “Freedom of Navigation Operations” and an outspokenness on China’s encroachment in the South China Sea, it would also like Sino-US tensions to decrease. Vietnam would also stand to gain the most from the US rejoining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the successor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Larger and targeted infrastructure investments – the likes of which China has been using as a geopolitical gateway – by the US would also boost the relationship with Vietnam. Another step towards diversifying and at the same time strengthening US-Vietnamese relations would be a continued, if not heightened support for the Mekong-riparian countries.

Finally, whoever will govern in the coming years, the US will have to rely (even) more on its regional alliances such as the Quad, to effectively and sustainably build an anti-pole to China’s rise. [The Diplomat]

3 November 2020

Vietnamese vessels dare Indonesia’s sovereignty in South China Sea

(jn) According to the activist group Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, Vietnamese fishing boats have intruded into Indonesia’s territorial waters in the North Natuna Sea, making up about two thirds of the more than 30 foreign-flagged ships that carried out illegal fishing between June and October of this year. None of those ships hailed from China. A DFW representative called on the Indonesian government to take action against these intrusions – which have increased since last year – by stepping up surveillance or military patrols. He said this was necessary for the sake of deterrence, since the Vietnamese vessels were maneuvering aggressively by either fleeing or crashing with the encountering Indonesian monitoring ships.

Only in January, Indonesian military vessels expelled more than 50 Chinese ships from the area that China claims for itself, as it is encircled by China’s infamous nine-dash-line. However, inner-ASEAN disputes are not uncommon either, such as between Vietnam and Indonesia, who are still in negotiations about the exact boundaries of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). According to experts, Vietnamese forays are not so much motivated by a rejection of Indonesian sovereignty, but rather by economics. [South China Morning Post]

3 November 2020

Indonesia: Pompeo to further criticize China on maritime disputes

(nd) In his visit to Indonesia before the US presidential bid, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo furthered his administration’s take on China, mentioning Beijing’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea, and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. While attacking China and rejecting its claim over the disputed waters, Pompeo praised Indonesia for protecting its maritime sovereignty in the North Natuna Sea.

His counterpart Retno Marsudi said “international law must be respected” and that “the South China Sea should be maintained as a stable and peaceful sea,” but did not mention China directly.

After the meeting, Retno reiterated Indonesia’s invitation to US investment in the development of Riau Islands’ Natuna regency, one of outer islands in the southern part of the disputed waters.

Previous US policy argued, that maritime disputes between China and its neighbors shall be resolved through UN-backed arbitration. In a statement in July, Pompeo announced the US views all Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea as illegitimate. This announcement was made in the context of the US presidential campaign, with the Trump administration portraying the Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, as weak on China. [Jakarta Post] [Channel News Asia] [Jakarta Post]

Meanwhile, the US has extended trade privileges for Indonesia under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme, with annual exports worth more than $2 billion from Indonesia to the US. Under the GSP, the US unilaterally grants duty exemptions on the import of various goods from developing countries since 1974. According to Foreign minister Retno Marsudi, 13% of Indonesia’s total exports to the US in 2019 used the exemptions. Also, most exported products under the scheme are produced by Indonesian small and medium enterprises. [Jakarta Globe]

3 November 2020

Laos to reopen the border to travelers from China

(py) China and Laos have agreed on a fast track scheme to allow Chinese nationals to pass through the Boten border in Luang Namtha, if they have tested negative for COVID-19, been quarantined for 14 days in China, and another 48 hours in Laos. It will commence November 1, a week later also for Vietnamese nationals. Four smaller borders, one on the Border with China and three on the border with Thailand, will open for the crossing of goods. Citizens have expressed their concerns over the short quarantine, while some urged the government to reopen other borders, citing economic hardships. China is Laos’ largest foreign investor, followed by Thailand, with predominantly hydro-power dams and other large-scale infrastructure projects built under the Belt and Road Initiative. Moreover, Chinese tourist were the third-largest group of tourists, following Thailand and Vietnam, in 2018 and generally make up an important factor to the regional tourist industry. China was the primary source of visitors to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, and Bali, prior to the spread of Covid-19. [Radio Free Asia] [The Diplomat]

3 November 2020

Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen reaffirms denial of plans for Chinese military base

(jn) Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen denied again on Tuesday that his government was allowing China to establish a military presence in the country. Hun Sen stated there will be Chinese investors and technical experts in Cambodia, but no Chinese armed personnel, and called for the production of evidence on the presence of Chinese troops. His remarks come in the wake of the demolition of US funded facilities at Ream Naval Base in September, that was revealed last month [AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1]. The incident sparked worries among the US and international observers that the base might be prepared for a future Chinese military presence. Similar concerns were contributed to the US slapping sanctions on a Chinese-controlled company for developing the Dara Sakor project further north at the coastline. [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4] [The Star]

3 November 2020

India, China: Next round of military talks to ease tension along LAC still pending

(lm) In a nod to the recently concluded third edition of the India-US 2+2 dialogue [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4], New Delhi said on October 29 that the ongoing dialogue with China to resolve the border standoff in eastern Ladakh has ‘no connection’ with extraneous issues. During the two-day meeting, India had signed on to the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which commits both countries to provide reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities, securing military communications, and sharing geospatial data from airborne and satellite sensors. [Hindustan Times 1]

Shortly after the ministerial meeting, on October 27, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington would stand by New Delhi in confronting threats to India’s sovereignty. He also described the Chinese Communist Party as ‘no friend to democracy [and] the rule of law’. In a sharp assertion to Pompeo’s remarks, China the following day said the Sino-India boundary dispute was a bilateral matter, adding that the US Secretary of State’s comments had ‘instigated China’s relations with other countries in the region’. [Hindustan Times 2]

Talks to ease tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are yet to produce a tangible breakthrough in disengagement and de-escalation, despite several rounds of diplomatic and military talks between India and China. Moreover, both countries ramped up infrastructure development and military presence close to the border, since they suffered causalities in the Galwan Valley clash in June. The tens of thousands of troops mobilized by both sides since then have more recently been preparing for an extended winter deployment [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3].

Meanwhile, a former lawmaker from the state of Ladakh claimed Chinese troops had further transgressed into Indian territory and occupied prominent positions along the north bank of the Pangong Tso lake. [The Hindu]

3 November 2020

US Secretary of States visits Sri Lanka in an effort to sway Colombo away from its pro-China bent

(lm) Less than a week before the American presidential election, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called the Chinese Communist Party a ‘predator’ who had brought lawlessness to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Earlier the day, Pompeo arrived in Colombo, the second stop on a four-nation tour [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3], marking the first visit of a high-level US diplomat since 2015. [Al Jazeera] [The Straits Times]

In an effort to bolster allies against China’s growing assertiveness in the region, Pompeo called on the strategically located island nation to be on guard against lending and investment by Beijing, which American officials allege is Chinese exploitation. Meeting with Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Pompeo said Sir Lanka could be ‘a beacon’ for freedom and democracy in the region as long as it retained its ‘full sovereignty.’ [Associated Press]

Defending Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, however, President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told Pompeo that he was not ready to compromise his country’s sovereignty in relations with other nations. Moreover, Gunawardena appeared unwilling to get involved in the spat with China, saying that Sri Lanka ‘is a neutral, non-aligned country committed to peace’. [The Diplomat]

Earlier this month, Beijing announced that it would provide Sri Lanka with a $90 million grant to help rural development, after President Rajapaksa sought help from a visiting Chinese delegation in disproving a perception that that the Chinese-built Hambantota port is a ‘debt trap’ [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. In the run-up to Pompeo’s visit, China had already fired back at Washington’s message, accusing the United States of ‘importing risk’ to an island nation battling the coronavirus and of bullying smaller nations. [South China Morning Post]

Not surprisingly, there is little indication of headway being made around the pending US proposal on the $480 million Compact of the ‘Millennium Challenge Cooperation’ (MCC) [see AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5] and a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Washington has been pressuring Colombo since July 2019 to renew its SOFA, which allows visa-free movement of US security and defense personnel in and out of Sri Lanka. In the wake of Pompeo’s Colombo visit, President Rajapaksa said on November 1 that the MCC would not be signed under his administration. [News First] [The Diplomat]

After his 12-hour visit to Colombo, Pompeo traveled to the Maldives later on Wednesday, another Indian Ocean country struggling with a mountain of Chinese debt incurred to finance big infrastructure projects [see below]. Further, he is due to hold meetings in Indonesia, which is also locked in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, on Friday. The Vietnamese Government on Wednesday said Pompeo would visit Hanoi on Thursday and Friday as part of his tour of Asia.The U.S. State Department has not yet confirmed the announcement. [Reuters]

3 November 2020

China-Japan relations: Tokyo plans to block Beijing from supplying drones to Japanese government

(dq) Japan announced that it is considering shutting off China from supplying drones to its government, citing efforts to strengthen the protection of sensitive information as reason, including information technology, supply chains, cyber security and intellectual property. 

Japan’s defense ministry currently possesses several hundred drones, including some made by Chinese companies, while the coast guard has about 30 drones, with most of them being Chinese. Both said they were not using Chinese drones for security-related issues. [Reuters]

3 November 2020

China-Australia relations: Beijing to enforce new ban on Australian imports

(dql) Adding pressure on Australia’s economic amid strained relations between Beijing and Canberra, the former has issued a directive to ban Australian imports from Friday on, worth estimated 6 billion AUSD and including wine, coal, cotton, lobster, timber, and barley. [Financial Review]

In an earlier move, Chinese customers have been advised to defer orders of Australian coal while Australian cotton exporters have been notified that exports will be cut in 2021. [AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]

In September, China imported more metallurgical coal from neighboring Mongolia than from its once-key supplier Australia, with a rise of 17% to 4.65 million tons while shipments of the commodity from Australia shrunk 2.72 million tons, to their lowest level this year. [DHT News]

3 November 2020

China-Brazil tensions rising over Bolsonaro’s block of Chinese Covid-19 vaccine imports

(dql) An Inner-Brazilian quarrel threatens to further strain bilateral relations with China as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his Vice-President Hamilton Mourao are logged in a dispute over the potential purchase of Chinese Covid-19 vaccines. In a latest development the latter on Friday confirmed the purchase and thus contradicting the former’s statement a week earlier that the federal government would not buy. The president’s statement was in turn a response to the health minister’s announcement to include the Chinese vaccine in an immunization program. [Aljazeera]

China’s Global Times warned of the possible damage of Sino-Brazil ties by “some Brazilian forces’ politicization” of the imports to court the US and called Bolsonaro “Brazil’s Donald Trump”. [Global Times]

Chinese-Brazil diplomatic ties have been strained over the pandemic since Bolsonaro’s son, a member of the Brazilian Congress, has called the coronavirus “China Virus” to further compare Beijing’s pandemic handling with those of the former Soviet Union of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Similarly, Brazil’s Education Minister accused Chinese medical equipment manufacturers of making profit with the pandemic earlier in spring. [Reuters] [AA]

Bolsonaro himself is known for its hardline stance towards China and believed to currently consider a ban of Huawei from Brazil’s network after last month’s agreement between the US Export-Import Bank and Brazil’s Ministry of Economy for the provision of up to 1 billion USD in loans to finance telecommunication projects in Brazil. [ZD Net] 

3 November 2020

Cross-strait relations: Tsai Ing-wen posture of strength amid concerns over lacking patriotism among Taiwan’s youth

(ef/dql) At a meeting of senior national security officials past weekend, President Tsai Ing-wen reiterated that Taiwan was willing to hold a “substantive dialogue” with China as long as it is on equal terms. At the same time, however, she warned that cross-strait peace could not be achieved by showing weakness, only by strength and the resolve to defend one’s homeland. [Focus Taiwan 1]

Meanwhile, for the 29th time since mid-September, Chinese military planes entered the Taiwanese air defense identification zone (ADIZ) last week. This time, three models from the medium size, medium range Shaanxi Y-8 family, including an electronic signals intelligence variant, an electronic warfare variant and an electronic reconnaissance variant, were intercepted by the Taiwanese military. [Focus Taiwan 2]

Commenting, Taiwanese military experts cautioned that Beijing might currently be evaluating a good approach to invade Taiwan while drafting related war plans. Military aircraft, by repeatedly flying into Taiwan’s ADIZ, could obtain experience to deal with occurrences in a potential conflict zone in advance. They further warned of a potential “elastic fatigue” among people in Taiwan – the idea that people will become blasé and no longer concerned over China’s threat to Taiwan. [Focus Taiwan 3]

For related concerns over “fatalism and indifference” towards Taiwan’s fate vis-à-vis Chinese threats among young people who “only like to criticize China with their keyboards, but won’t join the army to show their determination,” see David Pierson and Ralph Jennings in [Los Angeles Times].

3 November 2020

US-Taiwan arms sales 

(dql/ef) Already high running tensions between China and the US have been further strained after two potential US arms sales to Taiwan last and this week.

Last week, the US State Department approved the potential 2.4 billion USD sale of 400 anti-ship cruise missiles along 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems to Taiwan, shortly after its approval of the potential sale of three other weapons systems worth 1.8 billion USD, including sensors, missiles and artillery, a week earlier.

Taiwanese officials believe that the deal marks an important step to being able to destroy half of any Chinese invasion force within five years. The sale is awaiting approval by Congress. [Defense News] [South China Morning Post]

In a latest development, the Pentagon is expected to formally notify Congress on the sale of four sophisticated U.S.-made aerial drones to Taiwan. If not objected by Congress, the sale would mark the first sale of the sophisticated drone technology after the Trump administration loosened export control on military unmanned vehicles in July. [Reuters] [US Department of State]

Meanwhile, a piece in the September/October issue of the US Army journal Military Review calls on the USA to consider basing US troops in Taiwan to effectively deter Chinese fait accompli attacks on Taiwan arguing that “failed conventional deterrence could entail China starting a war to seek the rapid political capitulation of Taiwan.”

Observers caution against such a move as it would “trigger a crisis in U.S.-China relations,” and could, contrary to its intention, provoke the attack on Taiwan.” [Military review] [Japan Times]

The U.S. withdrew its troops from Taiwan in 1979, the year in which Washington formalized diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic in China. Ever since then, the U.S. has carried out a policy known as “strategic ambiguity”, meaning that the U.S. has never formally admitted nor denied whether it would help Taiwan in case of a cross-strait military escalation.

3 November 2020

Chinese, US officials discuss prevention of all-out conflict

(dql) Only days ahead of the US presidential election and amid high running tensions between Washington and Beijing, Chinese and American defense officials met at a two-day virtual conference to launch the first Crisis Communications Working Group, a move that observers believe to be crucial for the prevention of an all-out conflict between the countries.

At the meeting both sides discussed concepts of crisis communications, crisis prevention, and crisis management, and agreed that it was important to create mechanisms for timely communication during a crisis and to maintain regular communication channels to prevent crisis and conduct post-crisis assessment. [Republic World]

The meeting was held while US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and State Secretary Mike Pompeo were touring India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Indonesia and Vietnam last week to urged these countries to cooperate with the United States in countering Chinese security threats. [AP] 

3 November 2020

China-US relations: Washington pressures NATO allies over Chinese nuclear arms

(dql) In a meeting with NATO allies Marshall Billingslea, President Donald Trump’s top envoy for arms control, called on allies to impose stricter arms control regulations on China. Citing Beijing’s growing efforts to increase the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal, he stressed the need to take preemptive defensive actions, including deploying additional missile defenses to counteract thousands of missiles China is allegedly building up. He also argues that China’s nuclear expansion legitimizes the US expansion of deep strike capabilities to push back China’s missile battalions.

Billingslea’s demands signals Washington’s efforts to pressure NATO allies to collectively strike down China’s nuclear program against the background of repeatedly failed US attempts to convince China to enter into a tri-lateral nuclear agreement with the US and Russia. [CNN]

3 November 2020

China: 31st satellite launch in 2020

(dql) China confirmed the launch of a seventh group of three Yaogan-30 reconnaissance satellites last week.

The Yaogan satellites are described by Chinese state media as designed for civilian purposes, including “electromagnetic environment detection and related tests”. Analysts, however, suspect the satellites, which orbit in a roughly 600 kilometer altitude, to be used for military purposes as they are capable of providing frequent revisits for electronic or signals intelligence as well as optical and radar imaging. [Space News]

The launch last week marked China’s 31st satellite launch in 2020. According to findings of analytics and engineering firm Bryce Space and Technology, China is leading the space launch-rate race in this year as of September, with a total of then 29 launched satellites, followed by the US with 27 and Russia with 8. [Bryce] [Breaking Defense] 

3 November 2020

China: New five-year plan endorsed 

(dql) Last week, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) endorsed the party’s 14th five-year plan 2021-2025. 

Beyond the general pledge to secure sustainable growth and to develop a robust domestic market, the economic blueprint for the next five years highlights the need to secure the country’s self-reliance in technology as a strategic pillar of national development, a clear reaction to the challenges posed by the US attacks on Chinese tech firms in the recent months. It also stressed the need to strengthen domestic resources and consumption to guarantee growth in the wake of a world economy hit by the coronavirus pandemic. 

For the first time, the five-year plan included also a development goal for the military setting 2027 as timeframe for the plan to transform the People‘s Liberation Army (PLA) into a modern military force. In 2027 the CCP will celebrate its founding centennial. [Xinhua, in Chinese] [Aljazeera] [Inkstone]

In a related assessment ahead of the session, China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planning agency, confirmed the country’s rivalry with the US as the “biggest external uncertainty” impeding its medium- and long-term development. But the Commission is also convinced that “time is on China’s side,” citing a clear “trend of the post-pandemic ascent of East Asia and the relative decline of the West,” while “globalisation will not fundamentally reverse, and China could still be able to enjoy a largely peaceful international environment for its development.” It added that Beijing would be able to shape this environment and “actively contribute Chinese solutions” in multilateral platforms in a wide range of issues including economic growth, structural reform, technological innovation, industrial coordination, public health and climate change. [South China Morning Post 1]

Similarly, an analysis in [South China Morning Post 2] of the economic goals laid out in the five-year plan’s for the “basic socialist modernization” by 2035 suggests that the CCP assumes that China will be able maintain constant growth over the next 15 years to supersede the US as the world’s largest economy by that year. 

For policy recommendations on how the US should response to “the marching orders” that the CCP has given to the country’s economic decision makers in the five-year plan, see Emily Jin and Coby Goldberg in [The Diplomat].  

27 October 2020

Philippines: Panel on further corruption in Bureau of Immigration

(nd) Following the uncovering of a scam involving officers of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) taking bribes from incoming Chinese nationals at the airport, a senate panel was installed to investigate ongoing corruption in the department. This applies especially  to the exit of the country, suspecting the outbound trafficking of women and children to abroad syndicates.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) admitted the difficulty to trace such undocumented payments, which is only possible indirectly by scrutinizing the 19 suspects’ lifestyle. Immigration personnel usually earn low salaries, possibly giving a reason to engage in corruption. A modernization bill to raise their wages has been pending in the legislature since 2017.

In the so-called pastillas scheme, immigration officials are alleged to have allowed the easy entry of Chinese nationals, intending to work for Philippine offshore gaming operators, and earned around P40 billion in bribes since 2017. Following Department Order No. 41 issued in 2017, Chinese nationals could enter the Philippines without their visa being issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs. [Inquirer]

27 October 2020

Laos: Chinese firm to collaborate on Vehicle Registration System

(py) The government of Laos has authorized Khamphay Sana Group and Hytera to conduct a feasibility study for an integrated vehicle registration and transportation management system. Inter alia, registration certificates and driver’s licenses shall be issued though an integrated computer system, upgrading the procedures for technical examination, sales transfers, leases, and mortgages of vehicles. The two companies would also be responsible for improving the UPS network, infrastructure, and CCTV camera services of the capital’s 19 sub-service and two central service centers. [The Laotian Times ]

Khamphay Sana Group is a Laotian company while Hytera Communications Corporation is a Chinese firm based in Shenzhen. [KPGLAO] [Hytera]

27 October 2020

Philippines: Raise of minimum age for special retiree’s visa

(nd) Presidential spokesman urged young Chinese retirees to invest in a business and employ Filipinos. The Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) announced plans to repeal the current policy, which provides a special retiree’s visa and has a minimum age of 35. Plans are to raise it to 50 years, as it was before it was changed in 1993 to open it to military servicemen who retire earlier.

Around 26,969 Chinese nationals lead a December 2019 list of foreign retirees in the Philippines, followed by 13,912 Koreans; 5,951 Indians; 4,801 Taiwanese; and 3,950 Japanese. Of the total number of Chinese retirees, around 8,130 are aged 35 to 49. [Manila Standard]

27 October 2020

Malaysia: Chinese fishermen released

(nd) After the arrest of six Chinese fisher boats at the beginning of the month, all crew members were released. The fishermen were arrested for allegedly trespassing Malaysian territory in waters off southern Johor state. [See also No. 41, October/2020, 2] It remained unclear whether the boats were released as well. According to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), the fishermen will be investigated following Malaysia’s Fisheries Act 1985 and the Merchant Shipping Ordinance (OPS) 1952, governing entering foreign waters without notice respectively anchoring without approval, possibly facing two years of jail time. Officials at the MMEA, the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the Malaysian foreign ministry declined to comment.

Malaysia earlier rejected the Chinese “nine-dash-linie”, practically claiming the entirety of the South Chinese Sea. Despite Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping territorial claims in the disputed waters, with Indonesia claiming parts of it its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Between 2016 and 2019, Chinese coastguard and navy ships intruded 89 times into Malaysian waters in the disputed waterway, according to a government source. [Radie Free Asia]

27 October 2020

Pakistan: Separatists in tribal areas continue to target Chinese development projects

(lm) A corps commander conference held at the General Headquarters (GHQ) on Tuesday undertook comprehensive review of a recent surge in terrorist incidents in Pakistan, particularly in the country’s semi-autonomous tribal regions and Baluchistan. [Pakistan Today] [Dawn]

Earlier this month, separatists killed 14 in an attack on an oil convoy that in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which has become a nexus of Chinese development projects and heavy security crackdown. [Asia Times] [Al Jazeera]

Since 2014, the military has conducted a series of operations in these regions to eliminate Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) [see e.g. .AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. In September, the group announced its reunification with three formerly estranged factions, a move that analysts say could pose a security risk to projects linked to the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in northwestern Pakistan [see No. 37, September/2020, 3].

27 October 2020

Pakistan to remain on FATF greylist until next review in February 2021

(lm) A virtual meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Friday announced to keep Islamabad in on the groupings Compliance Document, also known as ‘grey’ monitoring list, until the next review in February next year. Within the last months, Pakistan has made progress and completed 21 out of 27 action items, with the remaining six rated as partially complete. [Anadolu Agency]

Founded in 1989, the FATF is an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing. As a policy-making body, the FATF sets international standards that aim to combat these illegal activities, with more than 200 countries and jurisdictions committed to implementing them.

In June 2018, the FATF had placed Pakistan on its rating list of countries tagged as prone to illicit financial activity and issued 27 conditions for review for complying. Islamabad has since twice escaped being placed on the watchdog’s financial crime blacklist with the support of Turkey, China and Malaysia. During the last three-day session, Turkey reportedly proposed that the FATF member states should consider Pakistan’s good work and instead of waiting for completion of the remaining six of the 27 parameters, an FATF on-site team should visit Pakistan to finalise its assessment. However, no other member seconded the move. [Dawn] [The Hindu] [Hindustan Times]

The FATF plenary was originally scheduled for June but Islamabad got an unexpected breather after the global watchdog against financial crimes temporarily postponed all mutual evaluations and follow-up deadlines in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Paris-based agency also put a general pause in the review process, thus giving additional four months to Pakistan to comply with the action plan [see AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5].

In the run-up to this week’s meeting, India has mounted a determined effort to hold Pakistan responsible for its role in supporting terrorism and terrorist infrastructure. New Delhi hopes that the United States — even though somewhat distracted by its presidential election scheduled for November 3 — will use forceful diplomacy to keep Pakistan pinned down on its failure to meet the FATF requirements that, in normal times, would have probably dragged Islamabad down to the black list. [The Diplomat]

However, India is up against a spiteful China that is ready to fight it across fora. Although Pakistan is yet to report total compliance with the FATF’s 27-point action plan, China tried their best during the meeting to support Pakistan’s poor performance. When Yao Jing, China’s outgoing ambassador to Pakistan, made a farewell call on September 17 – a day after the APJG meeting – he was quoted in an official statement as expressing ‘his confidence that FATF’s October review will go well for Pakistan’. [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

These technical hide-and-seek games notwithstanding, there is little doubt that the FATF is unhappy with Pakistan’s performance. Citing meagre progress on a total of 40 technical recommendations of the FATF to fight money laundering and terror financing, the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) recently decided to retained Pakistan on its ‘Enhanced Follow-Up’ list [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. The APG is a FATF style regional inter-governmental body that currently consists of 41 member jurisdictions in the Asia-Pacific region and a number of observer jurisdictions and international/regional observer organizations.

27 October 2020

China to share Mekong river data with downstream countries

(jn) Last Thursday, China signed an agreement with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – an intergovernmental organization of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – according to which it will share year-round and current data on water flows of the Mekong. The move was welcomed by other stakeholder nations as helpful in monitoring and forecasting floods and droughts on the important regional waterway. The MRC Secretariat Chief Executive Officer lauded the agreement as a “landmark in the history of China-MRC cooperation”.  The US, previously urged for more transparency on the Mekong’s flow, also praised the data sharing agreement as vital to downstream countries.

The Mekong is severely impacted by 13 dams in China and Laos, and others along its tributaries, that have significantly altered the natural flow of the 3,100-mile river for more than 60 million people depending on the water source.

China’s dam constructions have come under criticism for contributing to recent droughts that have severely damaged agriculture and depleted fish stocks downstream. Eyes on Earth, a US-based research and consulting firm, reported in April 2020 a striking gap between the volume of rainfall on the Chinese part of the Mekong and the water masses arriving further south. [Radio Free Asia[The Diplomat]

27 October 2020

Thailand, China forging closer ties; challenges to RCEP

(nd) During his visit to Thailand, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi announced further investment in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) flagship project. The EEC aims at transforming the three major provinces east of Bangkok into a high-tech, trade, logistic and innovation hub by concentrating knowledge and providing central infrastructure, such as an airport, a high-speed rail connecting Bangkok to China and Laos [See also AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1], and deep-sea ports. Recently, the two countries developed plans to link this project to China’s Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA) in Southern China, forming closer economic ties. This plan is part of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

During the visit, the creation of fast-track lanes to facilitate the exchange of people and goods was agreed upon. Additionally, Thailand will increase cooperation with Chinese firms on 5G technology, including Huawei, which US intelligence agencies warned of due to national security risks. More Western and European nations followed the US position, which could have repercussions for Thailand if Western firms consider investments.

Also this week, Ministry of Commerce announced that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact will be signed at the next ASEAN summit in Vietnam. The 2012 initiated project aims to create an Asian Pacific free trade area with a bigger GDP than the EU and the US, constituting almost 30% of the world’s trade in a highly dynamic region, involving the 10 ASEAN states, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Half of ASEAN and three other countries have to sign the pact in order for it to come into force.

Following growing tensions between the US and China as well as China and India and the tensions in the South China Sea, the RCEP faces challenges. Earlier this year, India withdrew its support, seeking  a free trade deal with Taiwan, which is seeking the same with Thailand. With Japan possibly reconsidering its role in the RCEP, it is a difficult situation for Thailand, given that the US, Taiwan and Japan remain the biggest investors in Thailand. [Thai Examiner 1] [Thai Examiner 2]

27 October 2020

Indonesia: Four Uyghurs deported to China

(nd) On Friday, four Uyghurs convicted of terror-related offenses in Indonesia were reportedly deported to China. There was no official statement from the government on the matter. The four were sentenced to six years in prison for entering the country with fake passports and attempting to join the Islamic State-affiliated Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) militant group.

Allegedly for years, the Chinese government has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), northwestern China, in so-called vocational centers, forcing sterilization, physical mistreatment and religious restrictions. A Chinese request to exchange a fugitive Indonesian banker captured in China for the four Uyghur prisoners charged with terror-related offenses was turned down four years ago. [Radio Free Asia]

27 October 2020

Analysis: Quad members are working toward establishing a new multilateral security structure for the region

(lm/ng) Amidst the months-long border standoff with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh, India on October 19 announced that the Australia would be invited to join the upcoming trilateral Malabar exercises. Scheduled to be held in November in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, the exercise will be the first for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a loose strategic coalition of Japan, India, Australia and the United States, since the grouping’s reconvening in November 2017 [see AiR November/2017, 4AiR November/2017, 3]. [The Diplomat] [Asia Times]

In August, New Delhi for had the first time made public its intentions to invite the Australian Navy to join the annual instalment of the Malabar exercise, a decision that was complicated by ongoing tensions between India and China [see AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]. The decision to include Australia in the drills follows repeated requests from Canberra and lobbying by Washington and Tokyo and is a clear indication that the region’s four leading democracies are now actively working toward establishing a new multilateral security structure for the region [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1].

Significantly, this year’s installment of the Malabar exercise will take place on the heels of the third round of the India-US 2+2 dialogue, scheduled for October 26-27. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper will meet with their Indian counterparts this week to strengthen strategic ties with New Delhi, as part of Washington’s latest efforts to bolster allies against China’s growing assertiveness in the region. After India, Pompeo will travel to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, two Indian Ocean countries struggling with a mountain of Chinese debt incurred to finance big infrastructure projects. He will conclude his trip in Indonesia, which is also locked in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. [The Straits Times 1]

Ahead of the formal two-plus-two talks, India on October 26 announced it would sign on to the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), the last of the four foundational agreements that Washington maintains with its other close defense partners. Under the satellite-intelligence pact, both countries will be committed to providing reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities, securing military communications, and sharing geospatial data from airborne and satellite sensors. With India and Japan signing a military logistics agreement in September [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3], New Delhi already has such agreements with the other Quad members. [South Asia Monitor] [The Straits Times 2]

As Indian troops remain battle-ready, facing Chinese forces at the border in eastern Ladakh, New Delhi has further increased defense procurements from the US, enabling interoperability [see e.g. AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. From essentially zero dollars in defense cooperation prior to 2008, India-United States bilateral defense trade has grown to more than $21 billion over the past years. [The Wall Street Journal]

Speculation about Washington’s interest to explore a new framework for Indo-Pacific cooperation, dubbed the “Quad Plus”, received a boost in September, when US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the US was aiming to ‘formalize’ the groupings’ military, economic and development cooperation. Though cautioning visions of an Indo-Pacific NATO, at that time, Biegun emphasized that the format shall remain open for other countries to join but ‘align in a more structured manner’ [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1,]. [Project Syndicate]

Biegun, who was in New Delhi earlier this month to lay the groundwork for the India-US 2+2 dialogue, said the United States and India have been ‘too cautious’ about Beijing’s reaction to the grouping with Japan and Australia. Speaking at a think-tank event during his visit to Delhi, Biegun said Washington would respect India’s tradition of ‘Strategic Autonomy’, and did not seek to pull it into a security alliance, but hoped to build a partnership in the region through the Quad, which he dubbed ‘Pax Indo-Pacifica’. [The Hindu] [Bloomberg]

Noteworthy, the US Deputy Secretary of State also touched on the November 3 US presidential election, saying that any possible outcome was unlikely to affect deepening US-ties with New Delhi because ‘this relationship is much bigger than any one political party.’ According to observers, US-Indian relations would continue to see an upward trajectory, albeit with nuanced changes in case Democrats take the White House. While the administration of US President Donald Trump has often sidestepped questions on human rights issues [see e.g. AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4] Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the past has expressed disappointment with the Indian government over its new citizenship law. Further, his running mate Kamala Harris, whose mother’s side of the family is from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has voiced strong opinions about India’s crackdown in Kashmir [Foreign Policy] [Deutsche Welle] [India West]

27 October 2020

Taiwan-Vatican relations: Taiwan urges Vatican to focus on religious freedom in China

(ef) After the extension of the agreement on bishop appointments between the Vatican and Beijing (see above), Taiwan urged the Vatican to uphold the importance of religious freedom with regards to China, adding that the Chinese right to propose bishops for appointment raises problems regarding the non-interference from government clause of the Code of Canon Law. [New York Times ($)]

The Vatican is one of the fifteen diplomatic allies Taiwan has and its only European ally; thus the potential establishment diplomatic ties between the Vatican and China probably would mean the end of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and the Vatican. [Focus Taiwan]

27 October 2020

South Korea-US relations: Is Washington pressuring Seoul on Quad commitment?

(dql) A surprising visit of Adm. Philip Davidson, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to South Korea, has raised speculations that Davidson came to Seoul to pressure Korea into the anti-China Indo-Pacific strategy. The visit comes shortly after this year’s Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) – the annual meeting between the US and South Korean Defense Ministers – last month.

Korea has been so far reluctant to adopt the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy, despite repeated calls from its biggest ally, as doing so could come at a high price, given that China is Seoul’s largest trading partner. 

Latest indication of Seoul’s reluctance is US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun’s decision last week not to immediately invite South Korea to join the expanded version of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). [Korea Times 1]

In a related move, the US State Department revealed that US State Secretary Pompeo will travel to India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia later this month, instead of visiting South Korea, fueling concerns in Seoul of Washington bypassing it with regards to decisions on North Korea. [Korea Times 2]

For an assessment of South Korea’s positioning between China and the USA, see Chung Min Lee in [Carnegie] who suggests that Seoul, being caught between the two super powers, needs also to carefully handle the complex relationship between China and North Korea. 

27 October 2020

China-Vatican relations: Controversial deal on appointment of Chinese bishops extended

(dql) The Vatican extended its agreement with China over the appointment of bishops for another two years. 

For joining hands with the authoritarian Chinese government, the Vatican had previously been criticized most prominently and recently by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who in September warned of “the Chinese Communist party’s relentless efforts to bend all religious communities to the will of the party and its totalitarian program,” adding that the “Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.” 

The Vatican defended its decision saying that deal “is of great ecclesial and pastoral value” as it aims at paving the way for dialogue with Beijing to achieve “benefits of the life of the Catholic Church and the good of Chinese people.” [CNN] [The Guardian]

27 October 2020

China-Germany relations: Beijing’s rebuke over asylum for wanted Hong Kong protestor and remarks on Taiwan’s independence

(dql) The Hong Kong government strongly criticized Germany for granting refugee status to a fugitive student who is wanted over rioting charges over last year’s anti-government protests. The case is the first instance of a protester connected to last year’s social unrest receiving asylum in Germany. [The Guardian]

In a related development, Beijing strongly criticized German parliamentarians for making “irresponsible remarks” about Taiwan’s independent status, made after a meeting between members of the Bundestag’s human rights committee and the Taiwanese representative in Berlin and the Taiwanese Digital Minister. The committee’s chairman stated that Taiwan expects a clear signal from Germany on its independent status and that “Germany not only admonishes China as a distant onlooker with regards to the actions in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” but “clearly demand that international law be observed.” [Deutsche Welle]

27 October 2020

USA and EU launched new dialogue platform on China-related matters

(dql) The United States and the European Union last week announced that they have set up a new bilateral dialogue at senior official and expert levels to “discuss the full range of issues related to China”. The announcement was made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after a phone conversation. [South China Morning Post]

The launch comes amid accelerated efforts of the US to press the EU on a tougher stance towards Beijing, including pushing EU countries to exclude Huawei from their 5G networks as latest seen during Pompeo’s Europe visit in August. Leading countries in the EU like Germany and France, meanwhile, has also become increasingly wary of China’s growing influence in the world. [Politico] [Nikkei Asian Review][Carnegie][Observer Research Foundation]

Chinese state media were quick to call the dialogue “dead on arrival”, arguing that European countries shy away from this platform as it would harm their own national interest due close economic ties between them and China. [CGTN]

Meanwhile, citing China’s influence in Europe, Asia and Africa, a former chief of the German intelligence service warned that China is close to “world domination” and called on Europe “to wake up to the danger before it’s too late.” He referred in particular to China’s advancements in the field of technology, urging the German government to cut off Huawei from Germany’s 5G mobile network to prevent the country being too dependent on China. [Daily Mail]

27 October 2020

US to send coast guard to tackle Chinese illegal fishing in South China Sea

(dql) In the line with increasing international criticism of China’s illegal fishing in waters around the world [AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2], the US announced the deployment of Coast Guard patrol ships in the western Pacific to counter “destabilizing and malign” activities by China in disputed fishing grounds of the South China Sea. White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien cited for this decision China’s “illegal” and “unregulated” fishing, along with “harassment” of fishing boats from regional countries. [News 18]

27 October 2020

China angered over latest US Tibet actions

(dql) China expressed strong condemnation of a meeting between the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile Lobsang Sangay and Robert A. Destro in mid-October. It was the first in more than 60 years that the US State Department hosted such a meeting. [Livemint]

Shortly prior to meeting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appointed Robert A. Destro, the Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), as special coordinator for Tibetan issues. [US Department of State]

After the meeting, Sangay confirmed that both sides agreed on the early passage of the new Tibet Policy and Support Act through the U.S. Senate in the next few months. The legislation, which was approved by the House of Representatives this year, lays out a stronger US stand on Tibet since the original act in 2002, calling – among others – for a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, the right of the Tibetans to select the Dalai Lama’s successor and preservation Tibet’s environment. [Reuters]

27 October 2020

China-US tensions over media firms flares up again

(dql) Amid already high tensions over tit-for-tat restrictions on Chinese and US media presence and work in the rivaling countries, Washington last week labeled six more Chinese media companies operating in the US as foreign missions. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the affected media companies were “substantially or effectively controlled by a foreign government.” 

Once labeled as a foreign entity in the United States, a media company is required to comply with the same rules and regulations that apply to diplomatic missions and which are stricter than those normally applying to journalists. They include – among others – the need to seek US government approval for purchasing or leasing office space as well as to register personnel changes with the State Department. 

Between February and June nine Chinese media firms have already been designated as foreign entities in 2020. [CNN] [Aljazeera]


27 October 2020

China-US economic relations: Beijing imposes tariff on US rubber imports

(dql) China’s Ministry of Commerce announced that, beginning on October 28, it will impose temporary anti-dumping measures on ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) rubber on some rubber imports from the US, South Korea, and the European Union. The Ministry cited substantial harm to domestic firms caused by dumping of the rubber product imported from these countries and the EU as reason for its decision. [KBS]

27 October 2020

China, US clash over Iran in UN Security Council

(dql) Beijing and Washington hardened their stances against each other over Iran at the UN Security Council meeting last week. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed China’s support for the creation of a new multilateral dialogue platform for Iran and criticized the imposition of unilateral sanctions on Iran and the use of “double standards”. American ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft reassured on the other side that the US would stick to its policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran. [Yahoo News]

The statements came shortly after the US State Department blacklisted two Chinese men and six Chinese entities over dealing with an Iranian shipping company and, in some cases, helping it to evade US sanctions. The assets of the affected entities and individuals which fall under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen and US persons are generally barred from doing business with them. [UPI]

27 October 2020

New US arms sales initiative to counter China (and Russia)

(dql) US Defence Secretary Mark Esper announced a new initiative of the Pentagon called “Guidance for Development of Alliances and Partnerships (GDAP),” under which the US will expand arms sales to “like-minded nations” to rival China and Russia as “primary competitors” in the weapons market, but also help build the capabilities of friendly militaries to counter the threats posed by the two countries. Major addressees of the Guidance in Asia would be India and Vietnam. [US Department of State][Defense Post].

In a separate statement, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien accused China of attempting to use cyber-enabled espionage to target companies developing COVID vaccines and treatments in the USA and other Western countries as part of Beijing’s efforts to dominate “all domains and sectors,” and “to monopolize every industry that matters to the 21st century.” [Channel News Asia]   

Furthermore, a senior U.S. justice official accused China of assisting North Korea launder money from massive cyber thefts by providing its ally cyber expertise and training.  [Asahi Shimbun]

27 October 2020

China-US relations: Xi Jinping signals strength in Korean War address amid Pentagon’s approval of arms sales to Taiwan

(dql) Chinese president Xi Jinping used his address on occasion of the 70th anniversary of China’s entry into the Korean war against American forces to send a signal of strength towards the US. Speaking from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last Friday, Xi hailed the “War to resist US aggression and aid Korea” – as the Korean War is called in China – as a demonstration of China’s military might against American imperialists. Drawing a lesson for the present day, Xi claimed that the “Chinese people understood that you must use the language that invaders can understand – to fight war with war and to stop an invasion with force, earning peace and respect through victory.” Without explicitly mentioning the US, he added: “In today’s world, any unilateralism, protectionism, or extreme egoism will never work. Any form of blackmail, blockade, or extreme pressure will never work. Any act of pursuing one’s own course or seeking hegemony, tyranny, or bullying will never work.” Quoting Mao Zedong, he reassured the world “that ‘the people of China are now organized and are not to be trifled with’.” [Xinhua, in Chinese] [The Diplomat]

The assertive speech comes amid news about latest US arms sales to Taiwan, with the US Defense Department approving a potential sale of advanced weapons systems to Taiwan worth 1.8 billion USD earlier last week. The sales include sensors, missiles and artillery, as well as drones and land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles that are supposed to serve as coastal defense cruise missiles. The offensive weapons included in this package are capable of hitting mainland Chinese coastal areas, marking the first such sales in more than four decades. China threatened to “make a legitimate and necessary response” to Washington’s approval. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post]

In response, China announced that it will impose sanctions on several US companies that are associated with the arms sales. The sanctions will be aimed, inter alia, at Boeing Co.’s defense unit and Lockheed Martin Corp. – two contractors of the US military. [Associated Press] [CNN]

For the demand of “break[ing] Taiwan’s military out of 40 years of isolation” as a substantial increase of US military support for Taiwan “that would make the difference, way beyond an official statement clarifying American support for Taiwan,” see Grant Newsham in [AND Magazine].

27 October 2020

China: Thousands of arrests over protest against language policy in Inner Mongolia

(dql/ef) According to the New York-based Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), at least 8.000 ethnic Mongolians have been detained in the northern region of Inner Mongolia in the course of the crackdown of protests and resistance against plans of the Chinese government to reduce and gradually to phase out Mongolian as primary teaching language in schools.

Chinese authorities are accused of mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, house arrests, and “intensive training” during this crackdown. [Radio Free Asia

Beijing, meanwhile, insisted that its actions against protesters are aimed to “fight against separatism, firmly implement anti-terrorist measures, and promote stability and harmony in the ethnic and religious fields.” It insisted that the use of the Mongolian language, textbooks and the bilingual education system will not change while the new language regulation reflects efforts to strengthen Mandarin as China’s common language and as “a symbol of its sovereignty,” adding that “it is every citizen’s right and responsibility to learn and use it.” [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

27 October 2020

China: Hong Kong fugitives to remain under mainland jurisdiction

(dql) Hong Kong’s government rejected appeals of opposition lawmakers in the Legislative Council, the city’s parliament, who urged the government to request authorities in mainland China to release 12 Hong Kong fugitives and hand them over to the city’s justice system. The fugitives are being held in Shenzhen after they were intercepted by the China Coast Guard when attempting to flee from Hong Kong to Taiwan in August. [South China Morning Post]

Lawyers hired to represent some of the 12 fugitives were denied permission to visit their clients in detention last week, the latest in a string of unsuccessful attempts by defense attorneys for the group in recent weeks. [Radio Free Asia]

27 October 2020

China to legalize digital currency

(dql) The People’s Bank of China is pushing for a legalization of its digital currency with its proposal for a reform of China’s banking the country’s central bank to introduce the wording: “Renminbi includes both a physical form and a digital form.” Another revision states that “any individual or entity shall not make or issue any tokenized note or digital tokens that replace Renminbi’s circulation in the market.”

The draft was published last week to solicit public response until November 29. [Nikkei Asian Review]

For an account on the geopolitical consequences of a Chinese state-run digital currency and its potential challenge to the US dollar-domination, see Andrei Kadomtsev in [Modern Diplomacy] and Maggie Clarendon in [Cointelegraph].

27 October 2020

China: National defense law to be revised

(dql) China has issued a draft revision to its national defense law. Besides efforts to strengthen security in key areas like cyberspace, outer space and electromagnetic applications it also aims at improving communication between the government and the military in form of a “coordination mechanism” between the State Council – China’s cabinet – and the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission to discuss important defense matters . The draft also stressed the need for increasing research on defense technologies and encouraged investment by companies and organizations from outside the military sector.

Part of the draft is also a military education guideline to reform the country’s military training system with a holistic approach that combines academic studies, military and vocational training. Observers see the reform move as a departure from the previous emphasis of large non-combat-related aspects of training such as theoretical and political studies at the expense of military knowledge and training. 

The document, which has been under deliberation for almost two years, was released by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress last week and will be accessible for public comment until November 19. 

China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe called the reform of the existing law “urgently needed,” as China was “facing increasingly complicated security threats and challenges.” [Army Recognition] [Yahoo News]

20 October 2020

Laos: More Chinese assistance

(py) Following an official visit to Laos by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, China agreed to assist Laos across three initiatives as part of its effort to bolster cooperative relations between the two countries. Those will cover Chinese supplies to curb the dengue fever, a rural development infrastructure project and an offer for a generalized system of preferences for duty exemptions and facilitating  transport of goods across borders. Besides, an easing of immigration policy was  discussed which would grant certain privileges to Chinese individuals with regards to entry and exit procedures, especially diplomatic staff, technical experts and foreign workers. The said fast-track immigration policy was already discussed in September. Foreign Minister Wang also met with the President of Laos, Bounhang Vorachit to discuss further bilateral relations. Laos would be granted priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine once they are ready.  Foreign Minister Wang Yi is currently on a tour of ASEAN, having visited Cambodia, with Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore as his next destinations. [Laotian times[AiR NO. 38, September/2020, 4]

20 October 2020

Chinese vessels intrude into Vietnamese EEZ

(jn) Ship tracking data have shown that a Chinese survey ship escorted by a coastguard ship entered Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) along Vietnam’s central coast on Monday, Oct. 12. The survey ship of the type Shiyan-1 is operated by the Chinese Institute for Acoustics, that had already been expelled from the Eastern Indian Ocean by India’s navy in December 2019 because it had been suspected of mapping the topography of the ocean floor for military purposes. [Radio Free Asia]

20 October 2020

Cambodia, China sign free trade deal signaling closer relationship

(jn) Cambodia and China signed the Cambodia-China Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) in a ceremony attended by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday last week. It is the first of such bilateral deal for Cambodia at a time when it is inching closer towards China amid the latter’s rivalry with the United States in the region. The not yet publicized deal was signed by the Ministers of Commerce of each country completing a process of just three rounds of negotiations from January to July of this year.

Cambodia also secured $ 140 million in loans and grants from Beijing to fund several of the country’s “top priority projects”, among them infrastructure projects such as connecting Cambodia with Hong Kong via undersea fiber-optic cable as well as power plant and road construction. Details about the content of the deal are still unknown as is how it would fit in the already existing ASEAN-China Free Trade Area.

Cambodia’s Commerce Minister, Pan Sorasak said that the “signing of the agreement signifies even stronger ties between the two countries and marks another key historical milestone for Cambodia-China relations.” He said he hoped that the agreement would enter into force early next year and would strengthen the economic ties to China through a higher degree of market access and trade liberalization.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said on its website that the agreement comprised issues such as investment, trade, tourism, transportation and agriculture. A Cambodian official said in July that it covered 340 commodities with 95% of them tariff-free, among them fruit, vegetables, meat, grain, but not Cambodian rice, rubber and sugar.

By concluding the CCFTA, Cambodia also aims to offset losses incurred after the EU suspended its “Everything But Arms” trade privileges in August because of the dire state of human and democratic rights in the country. Officially circulated expectations that the deal would boost trade with China by 20% or more annually have been met with skepticism among experts, especially given that the vital apparel industry seems to have been largely left out of the FTA [see AiR No. 33 August/2020, 3].

China accounted for 37% of imported goods to Cambodia in 2019, or $ 8.3 billion, while Cambodia sent only $ 900 million of goods to China which is about 5% of its total exports. Total trade between the two countries grew about 28% from 2018 to more than $ 9 billion in 2019, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. The Cambodian government said it expects bilateral trade to reach $ 10 billion in 2023.[Reuters] [Nikkei Asian Review] [South China Morning Post] [Radio Free Asia]

20 October 2020

Philippines: Moratorium on energy exploration lifted

(nd) Six years after its imposition, the 2014 moratorium on energy exploration in the South China Sea, which the Philippines refer to as West Philippine Sea, was lifted unilaterally by the Philippines due to the need for a national energy source, according to Philippine Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi. The moratorium came about due to disputes between the Philippines and China over the waters, which were followed by a ruling in 2016 by an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague, striking down China’s entire claim of the waters. The ruling was for the first time prominently defended by president Rodrigo Duterte in September [See also AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

In 2018, China and the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with respect to the joint oil and gas exploration in the disputed waters, giving a 60 % stake in resources extracted from the Reed Bank to the Philippines and the remaining 40 % to China, which was followed by street protests claiming a sell-out to the Chinese. Analysts commented the share deal was in violation of the Philippine constitution.

The Reed Bank lies within the Filipino EEZ, approximately 50 kilometers northwest of Palawan, Malampaya, and is believed to contain vast and yet untouched natural resources. Additionally, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims or boundaries with China in the disputed area. [Radio Free Asia] [Philstar]

20 October 2020

Philippines: Military Chief calls situation in South China Sea “very tense”

(nd) Philippine armed forces chief, General Gilbert Gapay, labeled the situation in the South China Sea as “very tense”, with China conduction unilateral exercises and firing missiles in August this year. Since China claims almost the entire waters, it forces the claimant states – Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam – into conflict for they have to react to China’s creation of facts. China has been building artificial islands and militarizing atolls in the disputed territory. In conjunction with a state visit, Malaysian and Chinese foreign ministers released a press statement on their determination for peace and stability in the disputed waters and their continued effort together with ASEAN members to agree on a Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea, which has been unresolved for almost two decades.

While both top diplomats of China – comparing the US-led “Quad”-initiate with “old-fashioned Cold War mentality“ – and the US blame the respective other, General Gapay highlighted both nation’s fault at creating uncertainty and aggression. [Thailand News]

20 October 2020

Indonesia: Prabowo to leave for US upon invitation

(nd) Upon an invitation by his US counterpart Mark Esper, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto will travel to the US. Prabowo was banned since 2000 from entering the US following his alleged involvement in human rights violation as a commander of the army’s special forces under Suharto, his father-in-law, including including the abductions of pro-democracy activists in 1997-98 and atrocities in East Timor, a province until 1999, which became independent in 2002. He never faced a trial.

In the following years, Prabowo attempted multiple times to return to politics and run for president. He was defeated twice by president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, in 2014 and 2019, who then appointed Prabowo as minister of defense, which secured the support of Prabowo’s party, Gerindra.

Besides furthering bilateral defense cooperation in light of China’s actions in the South China Sea and a strong foothold in the region due to it’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it is speculated the visit serves to close a deal on American-made major weapon systems to modernize the Indonesian Military (TNI). There was interest expressed inter alia in American warplanes, but it will be rather tough for Prabowo to achieve a deal benefiting Indonesian defense companies, which is stipulated in the Defense Industry Law, such as transfers-of-technology or offset schemes, since this advantage is usually limited to countries within the US network of allies, of which Indonesia is not part. The need to counterbalance Chinese activity in South East Asia might tip the weight in favor of Indonesia.

The invitation highlights that the US, despite the non-investigated allegations of human rights abuses, aims at forging closer ties with Indonesia amid growing tensions with China globally and regionally. Indonesia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea but China’s nine-dash-line conflicts with the countries exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the North Natuna Sea. Yet, due to economic entanglement with China, a complete shift towards the US is not likely.

Amnesty International, among other human rights groups, in a statement opposed the invitation and the lift of the 20-year travel ban referring to a letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year to further investigate the case. [Amnesty International] Despite a Democrat Senator’s support for this criticism, given the strategic relevance of Indonesia for the US, it is unlikely  that even a Biden-administration would  move away from Prabowo again, given the possibilities of his further existing effort to run for office in 2024. [Jakarta Post] [New York Times] [The Strategist]

20 October 2020

Maldives’ minister calls into question Free Trade Agreement with China

(lm) Speaking on a program aired by the state radio station, Maldives’ economic minister called into question the country’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, saying the agreement should not have been signed in the first place as it may hamper trade relations with other countries, notably India. Refuting the minister’s statement, China’s Ambassador to Maldives declared that the FTA is of ‘mutual benefit and high-quality’, adding that ‘it conforms to international practice and will lift the economic and trade ties to new level.’ [The Economic Times] [The Edition 1]

Notwithstanding the economic minister’s statement, China and Maldives engaged in discussions on Thursday, to explore bilateral economic cooperation in a post-COVID-19 environment. [The Edition 2]

The contentious agreement was signed between then-President Abdulla Yameen and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during the former’s first state visit to Beijing in December 2017. At the time, Beijing was embarking on its grand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and therefore, financed several major projects during Yameen’s five-year tenure [see e.g. AiR No. 39, September/2019, 4].

Following his election victory in November 2018, incumbent President Ibrahim Solih quickly moved to normalize relations with New Delhi, returning to the Maldives’ traditional ‘India First’ policy [see e.g. AiR (2/6/2019)]. In this context, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first overseas trip after his re-election to the Maldives. It was also during that time that members of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party for the first time openly questioned the FTA [see AiR (4/11/2018)].

In a bid to counter China ’s growing financial footprint in South Asia, New Delhi-backed infrastructure projects are currently being implemented at a fast pace. Further, India has provided a host of support measures to the Indian Ocean archipelago to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic [see e.g. AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

20 October 2020

Nepal: Chinese encroachment in Nepal’s territory continues to spark tension

After an inspectio team last month found that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had constructed at least nine buildings in Nepal’s northwestern Humla district, Kathmandu has set up six border observation posts (BOPs) along its border with neighboring China. Notably, in the last six months, Nepal has opened around 90 BOPs along its border with China and India, and is reportedly planning to set up at least 500 more within the next two years. [Times Of India]

Meanwhile, Nepal’s main opposition party, Nepali Congress (NC), on Wednesday accused the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s (NCP) of trying to cover-up the issue by ignoring accumulated evidence, adding that the NCP’s denial may constitute an act of treason. Prior a fact-finding team of the NC had visited the northern border of Nepal and concluded that China has in fact encroached approximately two kilometers of Nepali land. [The Himalayan Times]

Notwithstanding the findings, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs last month announced that an inter-ministerial team in 2016 had already found the buildings in question to be located approximately one kilometer inside the Chinese territory from the Nepal-China border [see AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]. Following the announcement, students in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu staged protests in front of the Chinese embassy [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1].


20 October 2020

India apprehends Chinese soldier who strayed across disputed border in Indian-controlled Ladakh

On Monday, the Indian Army announced it had apprehended a Chinese soldier after he ‘strayed’ across the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier was captured inside Indian-controlled Ladakh’s Demchok area, and was returned after the completion of formalities after China urged India to return the soldier ‘in a timely manner’. [The Straits Times 1] [Associated Press] [South China Morning Post 1]

As the tensions in Ladakh continue with no sign of dissolution, India has bought high-altitude warfare kits from the United States under the Logistics Exchange Memorandum Agreement, a sign that New Delhi is preparing for an extended winter deployment. In this context, S. K. Saini, the second-highest ranking general in the Indian Army, is on a scheduled visit to the US Army Pacific Command to discuss other emergency purchases and building capabilities. [The Indian Express] [The Straits Times 2]

Counter to the usual practice of giving the eastern and northern army units of the PLA the latest equipment first, Beijing is also prioritizing its soldiers in Tibet for winter equipment and patrol gear. Still, in light of the onset of bone-chilling temperatures and high-speed freezing winds, observers recognize that the Chinese troops’ new winter equipment ‘may not give them an advantage in skirmishes in the wild’, because India’s soldiers are more accustomed to war in ice cold high altitude environments. [South China Morning Post 2] [South China Morning Post 3]

While talks to ease tensions along the disputed border are yet to produce a tangible breakthrough in de-escalation, India and China are expected to hold the eighth round of military talks next week. On October 12, senior commanders held the seventh round of talks in the western Himalayas that went on for more than 10 hours [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. [Hindustan Times]

Moreover, Beijing reiterated on October 13 that it does not recognize the region of Ladakh, the region at the center of the China-India border dispute that New Delhi designated as a union territory last year. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on September 29 had for the first time refused to recognize the Union Territory of Ladakh and, in a separate statement, said it would abide only by a ‘very clear’ border alignment first spelt out in 1959 by late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai – a claim explicitly rejected by India then and since [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2].The statement came just a day after India inaugurated 44 permanent bridges across seven states and Union territories, in an effort to catch up with Chinese infrastructure development on the other side of the LAC [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. New Delhi, in a sharp assertion on October 15, said Beijing had no right to comment on its internal matters. [South China Morning Post 4]


20 October 2020

Sri Lanka: Financial lifeline from China when repayments on outstanding loans are due

(lm/ng) Following on the heels of a short-notice Colombo visit of a high-level Chinese delegation last week, negotiations are reportedly underway for a $1.5 billion currency-swap agreement between Sri Lanka’s Central Bank and the People’s Bank of China. During last week’s visit, Beijing offered a $90 million grant towards COVID 19-related medical assistance [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2], and is now likely to favorably consider the Rajapaksa government’s request for an additional $700 million. In yet another follow-up, both sides on October 14 signed a supplementary agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on water research and technology cooperation, aimed at providing clean drinking water to several areas of the island country. [Xinhua] [The Hindu 1]

The negotiations come at a time when Sri Lanka is gearing up to repay a daunting $4.5 billion of its outstanding foreign loans next year. The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that is, desperately needs cash to service its multibillion-dollar international debts and to run a current account deficit estimated at $1.1 billion annually. [Nikkei Asia Review]

Notably, this was the third loan request by Colombo to Beijing this year, after the $500 million ‘urgent financial assistance’ that China sanctioned in March, to help cope with the economic knock-on effects of the pandemic. Earlier, Sri Lanka had relied heavily on China to construct $1.5 billion port in Hambantota in the country’s south. After the port was operating at a loss and couldn’t generate enough revenue to repay the loan the country had received to build it, the port was leased to China for 99 years in return for $1.1 billion which eased its position [see AiR December/2017, 3].

As for India, New Delhi promised to consider Colombo’s request for a debt moratorium – Sri Lanka owes $960 million to India – and a $1 billion currency swap arrangement [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1]. The Reserve Bank of India already signed an agreement for extending a $400 million currency swap to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4], and is perusing a further $1 billion requested by Sri Lanka. [The Hindu 2] [Observer Research Foundation]

As Sri Lanka is exploring different options to repay its debt, including additional loans from China, opposition lawmakers have raised concerns over the Rajapaksa administration’s growing reliance on Beijing, cautioning the government not to completely burn bridges with other creditors, especially Japan, once the country’s largest lender for development projects. Further, government critics urge the administration to seek for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, a move they say would not just avoid the country defaulting on foreign debts, but also build up the confidence of international investors and enable the country to borrow gain.[EconomyNext]

Last week, the minister who initiated and spearheaded the Colombo Light Rail Transport (LRT) Project in a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga apologized for the government’s sudden decision to cancel the project. Last month, Sri Lanka suspended the $1.5 billion light rail project for its capital that had been finalized by the previous government, on the grounds that it was not a ‘cost-effective solution’.[Reuters] [News in Asia]

20 October 2020

South Korea-China relations: Increase in number of Chinese war vessels near Korean peninsula

(dql) According to data of the South Korean Defense Ministry, the number of Chinese warships crossing the tentative median line in South Korea’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) amounted to around 290 times in 2019, rising from 110 times in 2016 and 2017 and 230 times in 2018.

Seoul has demanded that the EEZs of the two countries be demarcated by drawing a median line between the two countries’ overlapping areas. Beijing, however, wants a proportional EEZ line be drawn by taking into account coastlines and the population along them. [Yonhap]

20 October 2020

Japan: Newest warship revealed

(dql) Japan’s newest submarine Taigei was unveiled last week, a 3,000-ton attack submarine which measures 84 meters in length and 9.1 meters in width and is expected to go into service in March 2022. It joins Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force’s submarine fleet as its 22nd vessel. 

The disclosure comes at a time of intensified Chinese naval activity around a collection of Japan-administered islands in the East China Sea, claimed by both Japan and China. The islands are believed to inhabit oil and natural gas reserves and are located close to important shipping routes and lucrative fishing areas. [Newsweek]

In an earlier development, Japan announced to establish three electronic defense units on islands facing the East China Sea by March 2022, in part to gather information on Beijing’s increasing activities in the East China Sea. [Nikkei Asian Review]

20 October 2020

China-Saudi Arabia relations: Deepening economic ties

(dql) China Geological Survey, China’s largest state-run geoscience agency has secured a 54 million USD deal in Saudi-Arabia to conduct a geochemical survey of 540,000 square kilometers of the Arabian shield area. [Yahoo News]

The contract is the latest sign of warming relations between China and Saudi-Arabia and comes after recent reports about a China-assisted construction of a facility for extracting uranium yellowcake from uranium ore, a major development in Riyadh’s nuclear program. [The Print]

20 October 2020

China-Australia relations: Beijing’s stops purchase of Australian coal

(dql) Already strained relations between China and Australia are further worsening after it was confirmed that Chinese customers have been advised to defer orders of Australian coal while Australian cotton exporters have been notified that exports will be cut in 2021.

By targeting coal, Beijing is targeting Canberra’s third-largest export commodity to the Chinese market behind natural gas and iron ore, which accounted for 14.1 billion AUSD in 2018 and 2019. 

Beijing’s move comes shortly after Australia took part in the Quad meeting in Tokyo earlier this month, prompting observers to suggest that it might be a reprisal for what Beijing considers to be Australia’s hostile attitude to it. At the meeting, Foreign Minister Marise Payne shied away from specifically mentioning China, but nevertheless made clear that Australia was not hesitating to align itself with its Quad partners in confronting China. [The Conversation]

20 October 2020

Cross-strait relations: Tensions between Beijing and Taipei further rise

(dql/ef) Amid high-running cross-strait tensions, Chinese state television reported early last week that China has foiled hundreds of espionage activities of Taiwan’s intelligence forces. [Global News

Taiwan rejected the accusations calling televised confessions of Taiwanese citizens before mainland courts fake news, while a Taiwanese court found a Taiwanese retired colonel guilty of attempting to establish a spy network for Beijing and sentenced him to four years in jail. [Reuters 1] [South China Morning Post 1]

The wrangle over espionage activities adds to already heightened tensions between China and Taiwan in which Beijing’s military maneuvering behavior in the Taiwan Strait has undergone a major shift towards gray zone activities over the past two years. For a long time, the status quo in the Taiwan Strait was defined by the Taiwan Strait median line, an unofficial demarcation line in the middle of the waters between China and Taiwan proposed by the USA just over 60 years ago and so far widely respected by both sides.

In March 2019, China violated that line for the first time in 20 years, signaling a new aggressive posture towards Taiwan. Since then, the Chinese Air Force has flown over the line at least five more times, with the latest conducted in September when China sent 19 aircraft across the median line. In early 2020, Chinese forces held a night exercise right on the line. [National Interest] [Livemint] [AiR No. 11, March/2020, 3] [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

Further fueling the escalating cross-strait tensions, Chinese President Xi Jinping during his inspection of a military base in Guangdong on the north shore of the South China Sea called on troops to “put all their minds and energy on preparing for war,” as well as to be “absolutely loyal, absolutely pure, and absolutely reliable.” In a related statement, made during his visit of an exhibition dedicated to the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the China’s entry into the Korean War, he called on the nation to inherit the “great spirit of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea … in the new era to fight for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” [Xinhua] [Global Times]

Meanwhile, Hong Kong air traffic controllers told Taiwan there was danger until further notice on a flight path to the Taiwanese-controlled Pratas Islands in the northern part of the contested South China Sea, effectively blocking Taiwan’s only air route to the disputed islands. [Reuters 2

Despite these developments US officials and analysts do not see a Chinese invasion of Taiwan imminent.

Speaking at last week’s Aspen Security Forum US national security advisor Robert O’Brien urged Taiwan to build up asymmetric and anti-access area denial strategies in order to avoid being exposed to  Chinese gray zone-type operations, while at the same time expressing his doubts that Beijing was going to attack Taiwan at this point in time. 

Similarly, US think tank Rand stated that recent Chinese military activities were more about intimidation than pointing to provoking a war. Thus, an actual invasion was more unlikely than ever as China faces its own domestic economic and political issues that are only masked by the repeated military threats. [Japan Times] [Focus Taiwan] [South China Morning Post 2]

For an analysis of China’s harsh rhetoric and military muscle-flexing against Taiwan, see John Dotson in [The Jamestown Foundation] who suggests that “PLA saber rattling is likely to continue,” as Beijing has no other policy alternatives than military pressure given that public sentiment in Taiwan is increasingly hostile towards unification on Beijing’s terms.

As far as the American strategy is concerned, it has long been marked by a strategic ambiguity which contained sufficient pressure on China to take action against Taiwan, but also sufficient uncertainty for the Taiwanese side whether the USA would rush to Taiwan’s aid if Taiwan, in turn, provoked an escalation. This ambiguity seems to no longer work, as China and Taiwan both are stepping up their rhetoric and military against each other, while the USA under President Donald Trump has also become more assertive in its defense of Taiwan.

For insights into an increasingly broad consensus among US foreign policy strategists on a necessary shift from strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity over Taiwan, see Gerrit van der Wees [National Interest] who argues that ending strategic ambiguity needs to be coupled with a vision that focuses on “Taiwan’s place as a full and equal member in the international family of nations.”

20 October 2020

China-USA relations: Beijing’s passes export control law

(dql) Allowing the Chinese government to “take reciprocal measures” against countries using export controls to harm China’s national security and interests, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, passed a law on export control. Under the law, which will enter into force on 1 December and apply to all companies, military and nuclear products as well as technical data related to the items covered by the law are subject to export-control stipulations. [CGTN] [Nikkei Asian Review]

While the law does not name any targeted countries, it is widely seen as a retaliatory move against recent US sanctions against Chinese technology firms, including Huawei and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, China’s biggest chipmaker. [Reuters] [AP]

20 October 2020

China re-elected to UN Human Rights Council

(dql) Last week, China was re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after securing 139 votes out of 193 votes of the General Assembly in a race of five nations for four seats in the Asia-Pacific group. The other elected countries include Pakistan (169), Uzbekistan (164), and Nepal (150). Saudi Arabia garnered 90 votes. China’s result is a sharp decrease compared to the election in 2016 when Beijing had received 180 votes. [Quartz]

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lashed out against China’s, Russia’s and Cuba’s election calling it a “win for tyrants and embarrassment for the United Nations.” In 2018 the USA withdrew from the UNHRC. [First Post]

China hit back demanding that the USA “stop spreading political virus and make some earnest efforts to promote and protect human rights in its own country,” adding that it “should stop politicising human rights issues,” and refrain from “using human rights as a pretext to interfere in others’ internal affairs.” [Hong Kong Free Press]

20 October 2020

Philippines: Communist party announces targeting Chinese firms

(nd) The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) announced it has directed its armed wing to target Chinese firms involved in infrastructure projects in the Philippines, claiming the constructions harm the environment, threaten national minorities , and displacing farmers from their land. CCP stated it directed the guerrilla units to “mount more frequent tactical offensives” against the government and the Chinese firms.

Earlier, the Philippine government announced it would not cut ties to Chinese companies building military installation in the disputed South China Sea, as the US suggested. At least one of 24 firms sanctioned by the US is involved in Philippine infrastructure projects.

The CPP’s New People’s Army (NPA) , a guerilla group, disposes about 5,000 fighters scattered over the country, has been waging a rebellion against the Filipino government since 1969 and was originally inspired by the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. In the midst of the Cold War, China supplied Filipino communists with weapons against US-backed Marcos administration, after which the CPP has repudiated links with Chinese communist doctrine in favor of an own ideology. Once a college student of CPP founder Sison, initially, there was hope President Rodrigo Duterte might find a peace deal with the group, which were disappointed when he broke off talks in 2017. [Radio Free Asia]

20 October 2020

Nepal: Cabinet reshuffle ahead of Indian Army Chief visit

(lm) Prime Minister Oli has reshuffled his cabinet, attaching hitherto-Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ishwar Pokharel to the Prime Minister’s Office and appointing another three new ministers – a move that leaves Pokharel without portfolio. The reshuffle took place after co-chair of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Pushpa Kamal Dahal held talks with the prime minister, approving the move that he considers necessary to increase the efficiency of the government. [The Himalayan Times]

Observers see a connection between the decision to transfer Pokharel and the upcoming visit of Indian Army Chief General Naravane, scheduled for November 3, saying the transfer is part of an effort by Prime Minister Oli to reset ties with neighboring India. Pokharel, after all, had strongly opposed the visit, saying that both countries should first solve their boundary dispute. [Hindustan Times] [The Himalayan Times] [One India]

While China and India are currently engaged in heightened border tensions in the Himalayas [see e.g. AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2], bilateral ties between New Delhi and Kathmandu had been strained over border-related issues since last November. The diplomatic gap between the two countries widened further in May when New Delhi announced the inauguration of a new Himalayan link road built through the disputed area of Kalapani that lies at a strategic three-way junction with Tibet and China [see AiR No. 20, May/2020, 3]. In July, then, Nepal unilaterally changed its map, showing the disputed territories of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani within its borders [see AiR No. 22, June/2020, 1AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]. At that time, Indian observers had urged their government not to burn all the bridges between Kathmandu and New Delhi, arguing the dispute pushed Nepal closer to China.

Resuming dialogue in August, Prime Minister Oli had laid the groundwork for his reformed India outreach when he called Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to greet him on the occasion of India’s 74th Independence Day [see AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]. More recently, the prime minister last month stopped the distribution of a new text book that included the country’s revised political map.

20 October 2020

China: New national flag/emblem law

(dql) China has adopted amendments to the country’s National Flag Law and National Emblem Law that will criminalize the intentional insulting of the national flag and emblem, including burning, mutilating, painting, defacing or trampling the national symbols in public places. The amendments had been proposed in the wake of the anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong last year where protesters trampled on the Chinese flag.

The revised laws, which will enter into force on January 1, 2021, will also apply to the special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macao where changes to respective ordinances are expected. [Global News]

20 October 2020

China: Only state-approved haj pilgrimages allowed

(dql) New rules issued by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs ban privately organized, non-official haj pilgrimages to Mecca. Thy allow only those pilgrimages arranged by the Islamic Association of China which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. The regulations also called on the Association to educate haj attendees on “patriotic and safe behavior,” and to prevent “the infiltration of religious extremist thinking and behaviour.” [South China Morning Post]

The new rules come as China is facing increasing criticism for its efforts to control religious practices and ‘sinicize’ religions in the country. [Bitter Winter] [The Quint] [China Christian Daily]


20 October 2020

China: Xi Jinping’s power position to be further cemented

(dql) In a move further personalizing political power in the hands of President Xi Jinping in China, a new regulation is expected to be adopted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee at the party’s annual political meeting later this month. According the regulation, Xi in his capacity as CCP General Secretary would be vested with the exclusive power to set the meeting agendas of the Politburo and its Standing Committee, the two top policy making bodies with 25 members representing the innermost core of the party’s leadership. 

Under the party’s constitution the General Secretary so far only has the power to convene Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee meetings. [Yahoo News]

For short bios of the current seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee see [Brookings].

13 October 2020

Taiwan: KMT will not change party name

(ef) Amid increased cross-strait tensions and pro-independency tendencies within Taiwan, the chairman of the KMT has stated that the official party name would not be changed to omit the word “Chinese”. Currently, the KMT is in a process of self-reform in which the relationship to China plays a crucial role (see above). Immediately after the KMT’s defeat in the presidential and legislative elections in January, younger members of the party proposed to remove the word “Chinese” from the party’s name. [Taiwan News 1] [Taiwan News 2]

13 October 2020

Indonesia: Vaccine cooperation no influence on South China Sea position

(nd) Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the recent cooperation with China on Covid-19 vaccines will not influence its position on the South China Sea. Despite not being a claimant state in the heavily disputed waters, Indonesia and China battle over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands in the southern part. Last month, a Chinese coastguard vessel entered Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off northern Natuna islands and left after radio communication.

Indonesia also cooperates with the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and the United Kingdom, in developing its own vaccine. Indonesia is one of few candidates participating in a late-stage human trial of China’s Sinovac Biotech Covid-19 vaccine candidate, and also works together with Chinese company Sinopharm. [Channel News Asia]

13 October 2020

Indonesia: Challenges for the newly appointed Ambassador to the US

(nd) Newly appointed Indonesian ambassador to the US, Muhammad Lutfi, has emphasized the need for both countries to reinvigorate their relationship. This move is part of president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s long-term goal to transform Indonesia into one of the world’s top five economies by 2036, by enhancing infrastructure, education and the healthcare system, and expanding trade. Lufti disposed of the necessary experience in business, he is the founder of the Mahaka Group, a multiplatform media company, and has also served in a range of governmental posts, including head of the Indonesian Investment Coordination Board.

Still, the ambassador will find some challenging aspects in his new position, fighting with a decline in public opinion on the US. While the Obama administration was perceived more positively, Trump’s anti-migration policies and anti-Islamic narratives did not resonate well. Also, former Indonesian ambassador to the U.S., Dino Patti Djalal, commented on the U.S.-Indonesia relationship saying the Trump administration has “lost its soul.”

Having strategic partnerships with both the US and China, recent health-related assistance came from China. Also, the US-Indonesian economic relationship was rather stagnant over the past 10 years, residing below $30 billion dollar. A more prominent focus on foreign capital of the president is often confronted by a more protectionist view of the voters, with the result of a too little liberalized national economy. As a reaction, Lufti uttered the intention to boost Indonesian products in the US and vice-versa, ultimately extend existing trade agreements.

In light of the upcoming elections in the US, another Trump administration is likely to cause their relationships to stagnate as before. Joe Biden uttered plans to bring supply chains from China back to the US. Since realistically some will remain abroad, Indonesia could further US investment in that sector. [The Diplomat]

13 October 2020

Cambodia: Hun Sen defends Chinese naval base use and demolition of US sponsored base

(jn) Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed fears that the expansion of Ream Naval Base might portend a future permanent Chinese military presence at the Cambodian coastline, with geopolitical implications far beyond. He said even though the base would not be turned into an international port, changes there would allow it to be used by different countries. Foreign vessels, not only Chinese ones, would be granted permission and be welcome to dock or conduct military exercises.

On Hun Sen’s behalf the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also released the transcript of a speech from June in which the he had pointed out that the erection of a foreign military base on Cambodian soil would be in violation of the Cambodian Constitution. [Radio Free Asia]

Hun Sen explicitly referred to criticism voiced by the United States over the demolition of a US-funded building at Ream Naval Base that the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) had proved with satellite imagery last week [AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1]. The US embassy expressed disappointment on Wednesday “that Cambodian military authorities have chosen to demolish a maritime security facility that is only seven years old and was a sign of US-Cambodia relations.” The US would remain concerned given that a possible Chinese military outpost at Ream Naval Base “would negatively impact the US-Cambodia bilateral relationship and be disruptive and destabilizing to the Indo-Pacific region.” [Cambodianess]

The Cambodian National Committee for Maritime Security (NCMS) had said on Monday (Oct. 5) that its Tactical Command Headquarters which the now-demolished building had accommodated were only a temporary structure. It had been scheduled to be relocated since late 2017 because it was too small and lacked docking facilities, with limited capacity for training and other activities. Thus, a larger facility would be established at a new location, but it would have the same function and not involve foreign partners. [AP]

While opening a $85 million amusement park in Kandal province where he also made above-mentioned comments on Ream Naval Base, Hun Sen also challenged his detractors to name any other country that could match China’s clout in development aid. Referring to other “superpower nations” critical of Cambodia’s perceived coziness with China he rhetorically asked, “if China doesn’t build roads and bridges, who will instead?” Should anyone come up with an answer, he would step down from his office.

Until recently, Cambodia’s largest donors of development aid were Japan, the United States and the Asian Development Bank. According to data from the Ministry of Economy and Finance, in the first half of the year Cambodia borrowed almost $ 5 billion from China and almost $ 1.7 billion from Japan. [Cambojanews] 

13 October 2020

Cambodia, China to sign free trade deal

(jn) Cambodia and China were set to sign the long-awaited Cambodia-China Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang’s two-day visit signaling deepening relations between the countries. In the first stop of his four-nation tour to Southeast Asia on Sunday and Monday, Wang was expected to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen, Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn.

China accounts for the largest share of foreign direct investment in Cambodia and is its top trading partner, while also holding almost half of the country’s foreign debt. This development could drag Cambodia into the Chinese-US rivalry in the region, as evidenced by sanctions that Washington slapped on the Union Development Group (UDG) last month, a Chinese state-owned investment, for a development project in Cambodia’s Koh Kong Province [see AiR No. 38, September/2020,4].  Also in September, Cambodia razed a US-funded facility at Ream Naval Base, for the expansion of which it reportedly accepted Chinese [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1].

Cambodia hopes that the CCFTA will offset the loss of the privileged access to the European Union’s common market after EU suspended its “Everything But Arms” (EBA) scheme in August [see AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]. [South China Morning Post] [Global Times] [Phnom Penh Post] [Khmer Times] [The Diplomat]

13 October 2020

India: Pakistan, China are building new missile sites along country’s western border

(lm) Citing sources in India’s security establishment, Indian newspaper The Telegraph reports that Chinese troops are conducting joint patrols with Pakistan’s army in the Pakistani-administered territories of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Further, Beijing is allegedly helping Pakistan set up sites for surface-to-air missile defense system near the Line of Control (LoC). Previously, Indian Air Force chief Air Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria on October 5 had confirmed that Chinese and Pakistani armies were carrying out joint exercises, adding that there was nothing to suggest that both countries were colluding for a “two-front war”. [AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1] [The Telegraph]

Sources at India’s security establishment further alleged that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), following a new modus operandi, has been instructed to push a maximum number of unarmed infiltrators into the Jammu and Kashmir union territory, who would then be provided with arms and ammunition through drones. [The Print]

13 October 2020

China provides $90 million grant to Sri Lanka

(lm) China announced on Sunday that it was providing a $90 million grant to Sri Lanka to support medical care, education and water supplies in Sri Lanka’s rural areas. Further, plans are afoot to restart discussion on a free trade agreement last held in 2017 [see e.g. AiR (1/6/2018)], and to swiftly complete the China-backed Hambantota Industrial Zone and the Port City in Colombo, according to a statement from the President’s Office. The announcement followed a visit to the strategically located island nation on Friday by a Chinese seven-member delegation led by Yang Jiechi, a Communist Party Politburo member and top foreign policy official. [The Hindu] [South China Morning Post]

During talks with Yang, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa reportedly asked Beijing to help him in disproving a perception that the Chinese-built Hambantota port is a “debt trap” aimed at expanding China’s footprint in Sri Lanka. In 2017, Colombo had signed over control of the port, which is located near busy shipping routes, to a Chinese company for 99 years to recover from the heavy burden of repaying the Chinese loan the country had received to build it [see AiR December/2017, 3]. [Arab News] [Reuters]

Earlier this month, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, had visited the Port City project in Colombo – a flagship $1.4 billion project in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – and called for the construction to be accelerated [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1].

13 October 2020

US Deputy Secretary of State to visit India, Bangladesh this week

(lm) In the run-up to the US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue later this month, United States Deputy Secretary of State, Stephen Biegun, is scheduled to visit New Delhi from October 12 to 14 to meet with senior government officials and to deliver keynote remarks at the India-US Forum, a platform convened by the Ananta Centre and the External Affairs Ministry. [The Print] [The Hindu 1] [The Tribune]

Following up on Secretary Mike Pompeo’s October 6 conversation with Indian Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar in Tokyo [see below], talks will focus on how to advance the United States-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, according to the US Department of State. While diplomatic and military ties between New Delhi and Washington have been on an upswing over the past two decades, against the backdrop of the border dispute between India and China, relations have recently accelerated quite significantly. [New York Times]

After his Delhi visit, Biegun will fly to Dhaka for meetings with senior officials to “reaffirm” the US-Bangladesh partnership, according to the United States State Department. It is significant that the US is focusing on Bangladesh, a close neighbor of India after concluding a Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Maldives in September, bringing the archipelago firmly into the ‘Indo-Pacific’ side of the emerging geopolitical maritime fault line pitting the US and its allies against China [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

Significantly, Bangladesh has not hosted a senior United States’ diplomat of Biegun’s stature since August 2016 – a clear sign that the United States is stepping up efforts to entice Bangladesh into closer embrace as a key Indo-Pacific partner. In a rare outreach, United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper phoned Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheihk Hasina in September to explore ways to help modernizing the Dhaka’s military by 2030. The conversation was soon followed by a virtual talk between Bangladeshi decision-makers and Laura Stone, a Deputy Assistant with the US Department of State. [The Hindu 2] –Nikkei Asia Review]

Speculation about Washington’s interest to explore a new framework for Indo-Pacific cooperation, beyond the existing Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), had first received a boost in September, when Stephen Biegun had noted that the United States were aiming to “formalize” the groupings’ military, economic and development cooperation. Though cautioning visions of an Indo-Pacific NATO at that time, Biegun still had emphasized that the format shall remain open for other countries to join but “align in a more structured manner” [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]. However, in the run-up to the second ministerial meeting of the Quad, a senior US state department official earlier this month dismissed talk of formalizing the grouping, saying the United States wanted to strengthen existing regional architectures, not create new ones [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1].

13 October 2020

Taiwan-India relations: Taiwan thanks India for support amid cross-strait tensions

(ef) As the Chinese embassy in New Delhi tried to influence Indian media coverage of Taiwan’s National Day, India’s Ministry of External Affairs reiterated that India’s media was free and will report on the news as it sees fit. The Chinese embassy asked around 250 Indian journalists to not refer to Taiwan as a “country” or a “nation” when covering Taiwan’s National Day.

As India’s foreign minister prompted journalists to adhere to the standards of free and impartial journalism, Taiwan’s Joseph Wu, the foreign minister, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center thanked India for its support. According to the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, the harsh remarks from India’s foreign minister stem from the fact that the attempted concealment of the coronavirus outbreak as well as the China-India border dispute in Ladakh have harnessed anti-China sentiments in India. [Focus Taiwan]

13 October 2020

Cross-strait relations: Taiwanese citizen confesses spying on China 

(ef) China accused Taiwanese citizen, Lee Meng-chu, of spying on Chinese military activity and stated that he thereby seriously damaged China’s national security. On Sunday, Lee confessed and apologized for spying on China. He claimed to regret his actions that “were detrimental to the motherland or the country”.

Allegedly, Lee travelled to Shenzhen (the mainland city bordering Hong Kong) to film the Chinese armored vehicles amassed there. The information collected by him could potentially be used to analyze the number of Chinese troops as well as their intention and scale of their training. He was subsequently arrested last year as part of a crackdown on suspected spies during which, according to Chinese intelligence services, China “broke hundreds of information leakage cases, arrested multiple Taiwanese spies and smashed spy networks established by Taiwanese intelligence agents.”

Taipei harshly condemned the “framing” of Lee as his public confession did not follow legal procedural rules and was rather sensationalist. The Mainland Affairs Council urged Beijing to not hurt cross-strait relations any further. [Washington Post ($)] [Anadolu Agency] [Focus Taiwan] [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post]

13 October 2020

Cross-strait relations: China gears up rhetoric of war 

(ef/dql) After the tensions between China and Taiwan have increased significantly in the last months, the China Central Television (CCTV) released a video of a large-scale military exercise simulating an invasion on the same weekend at which President Tsai Ing-wen expressed her willingness to enter into dialogue with Beijing in her address delivered on the occasion of the Taiwanese National Day on October 10. [Focus Taiwan]

Prospects for such a dialogue are bleak, given that Tsai reiterated that Taiwan will not Beijing’s “One country, two systems” while Beijing insist on arguing that the cause for the increased cross-strait tensions was the refusal of the current Taiwanese leadership to recognize the One-China principle, thereby undermining any possibility to hold talks in the near future. [Washington Post ($)] 

Furthermore, as Taiwan and the USA getting closer, Chinese propaganda is revamping the rhetoric of war by referencing a potential war with the USA over Taiwan to the Korean War – known in China as the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea – the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of which will be commemorated next week. The narrative depicts China being drawn into the war, but ultimately and triumphantly driving the American-led United Nations forces back to the 38th parallel. Recently, a “Resist America Aid  the Korea” memorial museum reopened in Dandong, a Chinese city across the Yalu River from North Korea, while a series of movies dealing with the war is also rolling out — “to carry forward the great spirit of resisting U.S. aggression,” according to the description of one documentary. [The New York Times]

For a scenario of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, see [Project 2049] and [Bloomberg].

13 October 2020

Japan-Mongolia: Joining efforts to promote Free and Open Indo-Pacific

(dql) Japanese and Mongolian Foreign Ministers – Toshimitsu Motegi and Nyamtseren Enkhtaivan – last week agreed to cooperate in promoting a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” during the former’s visit to Ulaanbaatar last week. They also agreed on stepping up security, medical and economic cooperation, and signed a 235 million USD emergency loan to help the pandemic-hit Mongolian economy and fund medical equipment. [Yahoo News] [Kyodo News]

Motegi’s visit came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled a trip to Mongolia because of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 infection. According to Shannon Tiezzi in [The Diplomat] the cancellation of the visit defrauded the USA from an opportunity to profit from an anti-China sentiment currently running high in Mongolia over the sidelining of Mongolian-language education in China’s Inner Mongolia region.  

13 October 2020

Japan: Rare solo maritime exercise in South China Sea

(dql) At a time when India and China are about to edge towards a war and ‘Quad’ cohesion is growing, Japan just deployed three warships to the West Philippine Sea for anti-submarine exercises including one of its light helicopter aircraft carriers. To replenish supply, the warships will use Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay. [Japan Times]

The exercises are one of rare occasions in decades in which Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces embark on a solo mission outside Japanese territorial waters.


13 October 2020

Japan: Bolstering intelligence with regard to China

(dql) In an attempt to bolster its defense against China, Japan will establish three electronic defense units on islands facing the East China Sea by March 2022, in part to gather information on Beijing’s increasing activities in the East China Sea. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In an earlier move, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force announced that it has inducted the Kawasaki RC-2 electronic intelligence aircraft, a new generation of intelligence gathering aircraft equipped with multiple aircraft fairings containing antennas for detecting, receiving and classifying electronic emissions. [c4isrnet]

13 October 2020

China-UK: British navy warns of Chinese threat in the Northern Sea Route

(dql) The British Navy warns of China as a strategic threat to the UK as the Chinese navy could reach the North Atlantic via the Arctic by a route opened up by climate change. [The Independent]

The Northern Sea Route is currently navigable only during the months from August to October, but that window is expected to expand steadily. Eventually, the route could possibly become ice free by 2030 or 2040. 

For an account on China’s growing space activities in the Artic see Jana Robinson in [Space Watch] who argues that there is insufficient understanding within the NATO of the implications of the Arctic as part in Beijing’s global space power projection, both in terms on scale and underlying motives.  

13 October 2020

China-UK: British Defense Ministry reveals new defense strategy to counter Chinese political warfare

(dql) A new UK national defense strategy paper aims at strategic challenges posed by China. Without naming China, the publicly available version of the paper warns against “authoritarian adversaries and extremist ideologies,” that engage in “a continuous struggle involving all of the instruments of statecraft,” and conduct “political warfare” to “undermine cohesion, to erode economic, political and social resilience, and to challenge” the UK’s “strategic position in key regions of the world”. 

The paper emphasizes that China’s political warfare campaigns are outside the West’s “legal and political norms”, yet still below the threshold that would prompt a war-fighting response. 

As a core response, General Sir Nick Carter, UK Chief of the Defence Staff, stressed the need to re-conceptualize the notion of deterrence and add ‘competition’ to the traditional deterrence model of comprehension, credibility, capability and communication, meaning the need to compete below the threshold of war in order to prevent adversaries from achieving their objectives in fait accompli strategies. Carter also demanded a better integration with allies as well as across Government, in particularly across the military. As third major response he demanded military modernization underpinned by a shift from “an industrial age of platforms to an information age of systems.” [National Interest] [Defence Connect][Government, UK

Meanwhile, the House of Commons Defence Committee last week released a detailed report on the UK security strategy concerning telecommunications with regard of Huawei in particular. The report envisages Huawei as “clearly strongly linked to the Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party” and supporting China’s intelligence agencies. Therefore, so the conclusion, Huawei’s presence in the UK’s 5G networks posed a significant security risk “to individuals and to our Government”. Recognizing the UK’s cybersecurity regimes as one of the most active and effective in the world, the report claims that the risk changed when US sanctions deprived Huawei of some of its chip manufacturing capabilities affecting the quality of Huawei products, followed by a UK ban on the purchase and presence of Huawei products. Following the decision, the report claims, China has threatened to withdraw from some areas of the UK’s economy which is seen as “a radical step with huge implications for the UK’s economy”, which, however, should be considered as a possibility “if threats by the Chinese state continue and worsen”.

The report recommends the Government to make a provision in its proposed National Security and Investment Bill to give it the power to intervene and stop investments in critical industries. Instead the UK is advised to form a D10 alliance of democracies to provide alternatives to Chinese technology. 

Moreover, a joint 5G and a wider security strategy replacing dependencies on China are advised to be speeded up including the removal of Huawei more quickly than by 2027 as originally envisioned, ideally by 2025. In addition, OpenRAN technology is seen as an opportunity for the UK to become a global leader in this technological development and production. Finally, the report criticizes the current regulatory network security as outdated and unsatisfactory and underlines the importance of the planned Telecoms Security Bill that it recommends to be introduced before 31 December 2020.

Concluding, the House of Commons Defence Committee report is significant for the accelerating trend of decoupling between the West and China reflected by its maxim that “the Government should not allow a situation where short-term commercial considerations are placed ahead of those for national security and defence”. [Defence Committee, House of Commons, UK

The recent UK report adds further pressure on Huawei, which is facing bans from key markets like Australia and Japan as well as number of sanctions from the Trump administration that are aimed at cutting it off from key technologies like chips as also mentioned in the UK report. [CNBC] [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

In a related development, Huawei was barred from sponsoring a defense conference in Slovakia, a NATO member, after President Zuzana Caputova refused to give her talk at the event over concerns the Chinese telecommunication company posed a security risk. [Bloomberg]

13 October 2020

China-US: Bill to designate CCP as criminal organization 

(dql) Republican House of Representative member Scott Perry last week introduced a bill calling for adding the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to the Top International Criminal Organizations Target (TICOT) list of the US Department of Justice. The Rep called China an “existential threat to American freedoms and liberties”, the CCP a “thugocracy” that he accused of anti-American intellectual property theft, cyber-attacks, and espionage coordinated by the party. [Christian Post]

In early October, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a policy alert informing about the “inadmissibility ground for membership in or affiliation with the Communist or any other totalitarian party,” referring to aliens inside the United States applying to obtain permanent residency. The alert aims at effectively blocking members of the Chinese Communist Party from gaining permanent residency or citizenship in the USA. 

The alert builds on the still valid 1950 Internal Security Act, the first US law to exclude foreign members of communist or totalitarian parties from becoming naturalized US citizens which it brings back to actuality. [Citizenship and Immigration Services, USA] [South China Morning Post]

13 October 2020

China-US: Pentagon presents naval “Battle Force 2045” plan

(dql) Defense Secretary Mark Esper presented details of his “Battle Force 2045” plan for a reshape of the US Navy, calling for a fleet of over 500 ships by 2045, including between 8 to 11 nuclear powered carriers, with up to six light carriers joining them, and as many as 80 larger and more lethal nuclear-powered general-purpose attack submarines. The latter was described by Esper as “the most survival strike platform in a future great powers conflict.” The US fleet currently comprise a little less than 300 manned ships. [Breaking Defense] [USNI] [The Hill]

Meanwhile, at least 60 American warplanes conducted close-up reconnaissance flights near China in September and the US may be preparing for future long-distance missions in the South China Sea, said a Chinese government-backed think tank in Beijing. Among those, more than 40 were made over the disputed South China Sea. [South China Morning Post]

13 October 2020

China-US security relations: Pompeo lashes out against CCP, reaffirms intentions to institutionalize Quad

(dql) Speaking to his Australian, Indian and Japanese counterparts at the Quad meeting last week in Tokyo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated accusations against the Chinese Communist Party of covering up the pandemic, and called on the other Quad countries to collaborate more than ever “to protect our people and partners from the CCP’s exploitation, corruption, and coercion.” [Republic World]

The US Secretary of State, however, was the only one at the meeting who explicitly criticized China. His counterparts expressed their commitment to the Quad in a more nuanced language. While refraining from making allegations against China, they reassured the concept of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific as a rule-based, democratic order that respects territorial sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes. [AP] [Kyodo News]

Returning from Japan, Pompeo reaffirmed his intention to institutionalize the Quad, adding “this capacity for those four powerful economies, big nations, democracies, to work together to push back against the Chinese Communist Party is something that I hope that we here at the State Department can institutionalize in a way that provides powerful protection for the American people for decades to come.” [Japan Times]

In response, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the USA of “stirring up confrontation” in the Asia Pacific, warning against Washington’s plan to transform the Quad into an Indo-Pacific alliance as a “security risk.” Wang compared US-led alliance to NATO in Europe, adding that what the US is doing could “mark the beginning of a dangerous and slippery” path. [Aljazeera]

13 October 2020

China: Chinese fishing vessels activities cause concerns over food security and protection of marine biodiversity 

(dql) All over the world, Chinese fishing fleets are increasingly found encroaching on foreign waters, massively exploiting fishing grounds there and endangering food security and marine biodiversity. 

In Malaysia, crews of six Chinese fishing vessels were detained for allegedly trespassing domestic waters off one of its southern states. The vessels were sailing toward Mauritania in northwestern Africa. [CNN]

In South Korean waters, reported cases of illegal fishing by Chinese boats have more than doubled from 2017 to 2019. [Yonhap]

Senegal’s government, meanwhile, has granted fishing licenses to vessels of a Chinese industrial fleet accused by Greenpeace of “systematic plunder” in the Senegalese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from March to July. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, up to 90% of Senegal’s fisheries are fully fished or facing collapse. [Quartz] [Greenpeace]

In a latest development, the Chilean government has announced that it monitoring the actions of a large fleet of Chinese fishing vessels to protect the “sovereignty” of the country´s exclusive economic zone. [Reuters]

In June, a fleet of some 300 Chinese fishing vessels swarmed around the Galápagos Islands, equipped with overhead lights and industrial jigging machines to catch squid. The boats remained around the edge of the Ecuadoran islands’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for the next few months, before moving further to waters off Peru in September. They are believed to have logged more than 73.000 hours of fishing between July 13 and Aug. 13 which accounts for 99% of the fishing activity on the Galapagos Marine Reserve’s perimeter, sparking concerns over overfishing and capture of endangered species. [Mongabay] [Oceana, with further information about China’s global fishing activities and output] [The Guardian]

13 October 2020

China: Government behind Chinese FDI in Europe

(dql) According to research findings of Dutch consulting firm Datenna, Chinese state-owned enterprises are strongly involved in China’s Foreign Direct Investments in Europe, with involvement in about 40% of all 650 Chinese investments in Europe over the past decade. In more than 160 acquisitions the ultimate controlling shareholder is part of the Chinese government, while in over 100 other cases the Chinese government might not necessarily be seen as controlling, but has a substantial stake in the acquiring company. [Datenna]

As revealed in a question of the European Parliament to the European Commission, the numbers provided by Datenna are much higher than those of the Commission which reported 57 foreign takeovers of European companies in the period between 2010 and 2017. [European Parliament]

13 October 2020

China: Global and domestic perceptions towards China

(dql) China has officially signed an agreement to join Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), a global COVID-19 vaccine project led by the World Health Organization and GAVI, a Geneva-based public-private global health partnership. COVAX aims to pool financial and scientific resources to ensure poorer countries’ access to vaccines.

China is the biggest economy to back the initiative so far, among 76 upper middle income and high income countries that have confirmed their intent to participate by September.

Analysts view Beijing’s access to the COVAX project as a soft power win, weighing even more in the light of US President Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw money and personnel from the WHO and not to join the project. [Aljazeera] [Bloomberg] [Reuters]

On a more general level, however, a recent Pew Research Center global survey exhibits overall negative perceptions of China at record highs in the USA and other major economies. The Chinese government’s handling of the pandemic counts most strongly for this development where a median more than 60% across 14 nations say China has done a bad job dealing with the outbreak. [Pew Research Center]

This stands in stark contrast to the perception within China where the government enjoys “even more popularity than before the outbreak,” according to an analysis of Sungmin Cho in [The Diplomat]. He cites the concept of “liberal nationalism” for this finding, arguing that Chinese youth can be liberal on domestic issues and critical of government performance at local level, while at the same nationalist and respond aggressively against foreign criticisms of President Xi Jinping’s rule or the Chinese Communist Party.

13 October 2020

China: Joint statements pro and contra Beijing at the UN

(dql) On behalf 39 United Nations member states, Germany issued a joint statement at the General Debate of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly which expresses grave concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the recent developments in Hong Kong. The statement refers to “a large network of ‘political re-education’ camps” and the National Security Law for Hong Kong respectively, urging China to allow independent observers “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to Xinjiang as well as to uphold and respect rights and judicial independence in Hong Kong.

Japan is the only Asian country backing the statement. [Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Germany]

Counter statements by Cuba and Pakistan followed promptly. Speaking on behalf of 45 countries, Cuba expressed support of China’s counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang and lauded the Chinese government for a human rights respecting “people-centered philosophy” in its efforts to advance economic and social sustainable development in the region. [Permanent Mission to the United Nations, China, 1]

Pakistan, meanwhile, made a statement of behalf of 55 countries on Hong Kong, stressing the respect for non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. [Permanent Mission to the United Nations, China, 2]

Dealing with human rights, humanitarian affairs and social matters, the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee is one of six main committees at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

In a related development, human rights organizations have urged UN member states not to elect China to the UN Human Rights Council citing Beijing’s attempts to undermine the international human rights system and the mass persecution and incarceration of Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. [Radio Free Asia]

The UN is scheduled to elect on Tuesday 15 seats in the 47-seats body. Countries are elected annually for staggered three-year terms. The seats are distributed along regional groupings, 13 for the African Group, 13 for the Asia-Pacific Group, six for the Eastern European Group, eight for the Latin American and Caribbean Group, and seven for the Western European and Others Group. Asia-Pacific countries currently in the Council include Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Marshall Islands, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, and South Korea. 

In April, China was appointed to the Council’s Consultative Group which makes recommendations to the Council’s President for the appointment of UN experts of Council, including the special rapporteurs. The group consists of five members. [Scoop]

13 October 2020

Singaporean spy sentenced to 14 months in jail

(py) Early this year, a Singaporean citizen, Dickson Yeo Jun Wei, pleaded guilty to the charges of operating unlawfully as a foreign agent for Beijing and obtaining non-public information from the United States. [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]

On 9 October 2020, the US court called for him to be imprisoned for 14 months. Yeo admitted to working between 2015 and 2019 for Chinese intelligence to spot and assess Americans with access to non-public information from state officers with high-level security clearances. [Chanel News Asia]

Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, intelligence services in both Beijing and Washington have always tried to gain the upper hand in the game. A brief history of the espionage war between US and China can be found in the [MIT Technology Review]. 

13 October 2020

Cambodia: PM’s son once again presents Chinese military vehicles to army

(jn) Hun Manet, the son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and commander of the army’s infantry, presented 75 vehicles donated by the People’s Republic of China to 32 units of the RCAF on Tuesday last week. According to a defense ministry spokesperson, the vehicles are grants from the People’s Republic of China within the framework of cooperation between the two countries’ Ministries of Defence.

Hun Manet had already conducted a similar ceremony in June of this year during which he had unveiled a shipment of 290 Chinese-made military trucks but had claimed that those were from “unnamed donors” [AiR No.25, June/2020, 4]. [Phnom Penh Post]

13 October 2020

Pakistan: Civil society, opposition reject plan to create new city claiming an annexation by China

(lm) A presidential ordinance aimed at developing two islands in the coastal belt of Sindh province has kicked up a political storm in Pakistan, with the opposition and civil society groups calling it an “illegal annexation” by China. While the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had hitherto managed to keep the issue out of the limelight, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Monday posted the ordinance on social media, vowing to oppose it. [Dawn 1] [The Express Tribune]

Sindh, the third-largest province in Pakistan by area, borders the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the east, and Arabian Sea to the south. The province’s coastal belt hosts around 300 big and small islands; and Pakistan’s federal government twice in the last two decades has floated the idea of building a city on two, Bundal and Buddo Islands. In mid-September, Pakistan President Arif Alvi chaired a meeting to discuss infrastructure projects inter alias on Bundal Island, informing real estate players and investors that the locations were very much attractive for foreign investment. [Dunya News] [The Express Tribune] [Dawn 2]

Prior to this, on August 31, the president had promulgated an ordinance for establishing the “Pakistan Islands Development Authority” (PIDA) with the primary purpose to develop and maintain islands in the littoral waters of Pakistan. Still, only the twin islands are mentioned as “specified areas”, which are to be promoted as “trade, investment and logistics centers and hubs, duty free areas and international tourist destinations”. Importantly, no court or any other authority will have jurisdiction to question the legality of any action taken by the PIDA. [propakistani]

To date, the provincial government in Sindh argues that the federal government has no authority over the islands, saying that according to the constitution any island within 12 nautical miles of the maritime boundaries falls within the jurisdiction of the provincial government. During an emergency meeting held on October 6, the PPP-led government unanimously rejected the presidential ordinance and demanded that the federal government immediately withdraw it. [Gulf News]

Recent developments have to be seen against the backdrop of a wider resentment against Chinese economic expansion in Pakistan under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework. In September, for example, fishermen announced a campaign against the arrival of Chinese deep-sea trawlers off the coast of Sindh and Baluchistan. Political leaders in Sindh are now fearing that the federal government is preparing to hand over some of the islands off the province’s coast to Beijing. [Dawn 3]

Further, since the launch of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a part of the BRI, the list of outlawed groups has been expanded to include ethnic and sectarian groups from the southwestern province of Balochistan and the northern region of Gilgit Baltistan. In May, the federal government banned Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz-Arisar (JSQM-A), a Sindh-based political party well known for criticizing China’s BRI, along with two militant groups from the same province for alleged terrorist links [see AiR No. 21, May/2020, 4]

13 October 2020

Taiwan: Legislature passes proposal to resume diplomatic ties with Washington unanimously

(dql) Taiwan’s legislature last week unanimously passed two resolutions submitted by the opposition Kuomingtang (Kuomingtang, Chinese Nationalist Party) which calls for US military aid to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression as well as a resumption of diplomatic relations between the USA and Taiwan. [Taipei Times]

Both proposals came at a surprise as the KMT has been so far upholding a much more China-friendly stance, compared with the confrontational stance of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which insists on Taiwan being a sovereign nation. At the recent party congress, the KMT – albeit after heavy internal dispute – had confirmed the ‘1992 consensus’ which the DPP categorically rejects. [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

The sudden change triggered questions about its ulterior motives, with some observers suggesting “political theater” aimed to maneuver the DPP into a difficult situation. Last month, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister publicly declared that his government would currently not push for full diplomatic relations with the USA. [Taiwan News] [The Diplomat 1]

Chinese state-run Global Times, meanwhile, condemned the KMT for its move harshly calling the party “losers,” and demanding that – given this “loser mentality” – China “must not count on them for future cross-Straits peace and national reunification,” but “fully prepare itself for war and to give Taiwan secessionist forces a decisive punishment at any time.” [Global Times]

For an account on the KMT’s internal discussions on its policy towards China – a core issue in the frame of the party’s reform process after the devastating defeat in the presidential and legislative elections in January –, see David G. Brown in [The Diplomat 2] who argues that the KMT is in need of a more Taiwan-centered cross-strait relations policy to remain relevant in Taiwan’s political system.

13 October 2020

China: Teacher fired for discussing HK independence

(dql) A Hong Kong primary school teacher has been punished with a lifelong revocation of his license for promoting the city’s independence after he handed out worksheets asking students to discuss independence and freedom of speech in his classes. [Hong Kong Free Press]

Hong Kong’ teachers’ union rejecting the punishment as “unacceptable” and “extreme” and announced to appeal the case. [Aljazeera]

Defending this unprecedented action, the city’s Education Bureau claims that it was intended to “protect students’ interest and safeguard teachers’ professionalism and public trust in the teaching profession.” Meanwhile Chief Executive Carrie Lam vowed to continue to “weed out the bad apples” from the teaching profession sparking concerns about a possible campaign against teachers. [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post]

6 October 2020

Indian PM Modi inaugurates all-weather tunnel in northern border region

(lm) While inaugurating the strategically important all-weather Atal Tunnel at Rohtang in Himachal Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government will continue to expedite several frontier projects including roads, bridges and high-altitude airstrips. Further elaborating on the issue, the prime minister also took a jibe at the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for its alleged lack of focus on the development of border infrastructure and compromising with the country’s defense interests. [Hindustan Times]

Traversing India’s northern Himachal Pradesh state, the tunnel enables travelers to bypass a tricky route across a landslide-prone Himalayan pass, and, thus, will drastically reduce the time needed to rush troops to the country’s remote Chinese border. [The Straits Times]

Noteworthy, the project is part of New Delhi’s push to catch up with Chinese infrastructure development on the other side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India’s Border Roads Organization (BRO), which implements most of these strategic projects, says it has built more in the last four years than in the previous decade. Speaking against the backdrop of ongoing tension with Beijing along the de-facto border, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh in September had told parliament that the government had doubled the budget for border infrastructure development [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

6 October 2020

Nepal: Students protest against alleged Chinese encroachment into Nepalese territory

(lm) Students in Nepalese capital Kathmandu on Monday launched protests in front of the Chinese embassy against the alleged Chinese encroachment into the country’s territory. [Economic Times India]

Last week, an inspection team found that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had constructed at least nine buildings in Nepal’s northwestern Humla district, which borders the Tibet Autonomous Region. Notwithstanding the findings, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs soon thereafter said that an inter-ministerial team in 2016 had already found the buildings in question to be located approximately one kilometer inside the Chinese territory from the Nepal-China border. [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

6 October 2020

Indonesia, Vietnam to be first on Suga’s list

(nd) According to Japanese media outlets, Japan’s newly appointed Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is considering his first state trip to be to Indonesia and Vietnam. Predecessor Abe Shinzo’s first state visits after his reelection in 2021 were also Vietnam and Indonesia, emphasizing his vision of the “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Suga is committed to continuing Abe’s foreign policy to strike a careful balance between economic engagement and strategic competition with China, and a special focus on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With its position between two oceans, Southeast Asia became a key focus of Japanese diplomacy. Bilateral relations improved under Abe, intensifying trade, security cooperation and infrastructure development, with strategic partnerships in place since 2006 (Indonesia) respectively 2014 (Vietnam). Both countries’ relationship to Japan are forged by shared concerns over Chinese presence, be it either in disputed waters of East and South China Sea or through infrastructure funding under the Belt and Road Initiative. [The Diplomat]

6 October 2020

Top diplomats from ‘Quad’ countries meet in Tokyo

(lm) Japan is hosting a meeting of the foreign ministers of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) seen as a counter to China’s influence in the region. The forum brings together Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to discuss issues including the coronavirus pandemic and the regional situation. [The Japan Times]

In the run-up to the ministerial meeting, a senior US state department official dismissed talk of formalizing the association, saying the United States wanted to strengthen existing regional architectures, not create new ones. Speculation about Washington’s interest to explore a new framework for Indo-Pacific cooperation, dubbed the “Quad Plus”, received a boost in September, when US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the US was aiming to “formalize” the groupings’ military, economic and development cooperation. Though cautioning visions of an Indo-Pacific NATO, at that time, Biegun emphasized that the format shall remain open for other countries to join but “align in a more structured manner” [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]. [Hindustan Times]

The Quad meeting comes as the trade ministers of Japan, India and Australia agreed this month to work toward a “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative” in the Indo-Pacific region, following reports that the three nations are looking to work together to secure supply chains and reduce dependence on China [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4].

In August, India had made public its intentions to invite the Australian Navy to join the annual instalment of the Malabar exercise, completing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) [see AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]. A formal invitation to Australia to join the exercises is still pending.

6 October 2020

Vietnam warns China to not endanger maritime code talks with military drills

(jn) Vietnam cautioned on Thursday that Chinese military exercises near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea would put the negotiations for a regional maritime code of conduct (COC) at risk, just when the talks between China and ASEAN members were about to restart. China began five military exercises simultaneously along different parts of its coast on Monday, including two exercises near said island chain that is also claimed by Vietnam.

Agreeing on the COC has been an objective of ASEAN and China for almost two decades, even its legal (binding) character has been doubted by experts as China genuine commitment to it. [Reuters] [Vietnam News]

6 October 2020

Cambodian king reaffirms One-China-Policy 

(jn) King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping extending his congratulations on the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. He expressed solidarity with China on their controversial One-China policy, saying Cambodia will stand side-by-side with China and adhere to policy. [Cambodianess]

6 October 2020

Cambodia destroyed US-funded facility at Ream Naval Base, possibly in the context of Chinese access 

(jn) Satellite images analyzed and made available by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) have revealed that the Cambodian government destroyed a US-funded military facility at Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk Province, further stoking the fear that changes at said base are related to a secret deal on military access between Cambodia and China. According to AMTI, the building probably demolished at the beginning of September was the Tactical Headquarters of the National Committee for Maritime Security that had been built and renovated by the US, and inaugurated in 2012. 

AMTI also noted that satellite images show the progress of land reclamation and about 100 acres of new landfill since February, about three miles north of the base at a stretch of Ream Bay. The zone is being developed by Canopy Sands Development Group which is owned by the Chinese conglomerate Prince Group. Canopy Sands is one of several Chinese companies, some of them with ties to Beijing, that have leased large tracts of land around Ream Naval Base for resort development. [AMTI CSIS]

Reports of a Chinese access to Ream Naval Base had caused anxiety among ASEAN neighbors and the US after reports of a deal between China and Cambodia emerged last year that would allow a Chinese company to construct new piers in exchange for a 30-year-long presence of the Chinese navy (PLAN). A Chinese foothold at the Cambodian coast would have the potential to unsettle the already skewed security equilibrium in the region by giving China another opportunity to permanently project military power to the South China Sea and to the straits of Malacca. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] [WSJ]

The Cambodian Defense Minister General Tea Banh said on Saturday that the demolition was not out of the ordinary but rather part of a development plan for the base that required moving existing structures to a new location. The goal allegedly was to improve and enlarge the base that was still small and shallow at the moment. He also played down the significance of the US investment as merely amounting “small repair” and “some equipment”, but nevertheless on sovereign Cambodian soil. He called out the US for “making issues” and “always making allegations”. [Radio Free Asia]

Only two weeks ago in a meeting with US ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy, Tea Banh had explicitly assured that Ream Naval Base would be for the Cambodian Navy’s use only. [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5] However, a ministry spokesman said that the removal was necessary to make way for an expansion of the naval base because “a lot of ships will need to dock”. [Reuters]

Asia Nikkei Review reported on Saturday that according to Vann Bunlieng, a three-star vice-admiral, deputy commander and chief of the navy general staff, the Chinese government was supporting the expansion of the port and the development a ship repair facility at the base on the Gulf of Thailand. The waters surrounding Ream Naval Base would be deepened so that it can receive larger ships in the future. He said that the “Chinese government helps us to build a port and repair facility for our ship.” 

Even though the Cambodian government and Prime Minister Hun have repeatedly denied any future foreign and military use of the base, the Chinese state-owned company MGC had revealed in 2016 that it was tasked with a “Port Expansion Project” by Cambodian authorities in a “cooperation framework agreement”. In a statement that was since taken down, it had given away on its website that the project aimed at expanding a “naval military base”. [Asia Nikkei Review]


6 October 2020

Indonesia, China agree on direct currency settlement

(nd) In an effort to boost trade and investment transactions, Indonesia and China agreed to develop a framework of direct settlement between the rupiah and yuan. With such a framework in place, it is ensured that a selected number of local banks holds enough liquidity in the foreign currency for settling the transaction.

With more than $73 billion worth of goods exchanged annually, China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner. Usually, such transactions are settled using US dollar, for it is widely available in most banking systems, but tending to be more expensive and the traders to be subject to the currency’s volatility. Previously, Bank Indonesia put in place a local currency settlement framework with Malaysia, Thailand and Japan. [Jakarta Globe]

6 October 2020

India, Sri Lanka hold first virtual summit

(lm) At their first virtual summit on September 26, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to expand maritime cooperation between their countries to stabilize the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal in the face of China’s growing ambitions in these regions. After Sri Lanka last month had announced its “India First Policy” – a reiteration of its commitment not to allow a third country to use its land or waters for anti-Indian activities [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1] – India clearly continued to step up efforts to win back ground lost to Beijing. [South China Morning Post] [Deccan Herald]

Firstly, India promised to consider Colombo’s request for delayed debt repayment and a $1 billion currency swap arrangement. In July, the Reserve Bank of India had already signed an agreement for extending a $400 million currency swap to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) until November 2022 in order to help the CBSL balance the country’s payment requirements [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]. Further, in a bid to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence on China, India is reportedly working on a plan to offer Sri Lanka $50-million Line of Credit (LoC) in the defense sector. [The Economic Times]

However, on at least two issues – the East Container Terminal (ECT) project in Colombo and the implementation of the 13th Amendment – the Rajapaksa brothers so far have not yielded to pressure from New Delhi. [The Diplomat]

In the run-up to the August general election, Colombo had suspended the ECT project, which India, Japan, and Sri Lanka were to jointly implement [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]. Although Japan and India are keen to see the deep-sea container terminal implemented, there have been no signs so far that Mahinda is thinking of reviving it. What is more, Mahinda visited the Port City project in Colombo earlier this month and called for the construction of the project to be accelerated, saying the BRI project would be the country’s future main source of revenue. The Colombo Port City project is being executed by a subsidiary of the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). [Xinhua]

Neither did the meeting result in a bridging of the gap in their positions on the question of Sri Lankan Tamil rights. Just hours after both countries had issued a joint statement, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office released a separate statement, making no mention of Mr. Modi’s call, or the 13th Constitutional Amendment which provides for devolution of power to provincial councils. [The Hindu]


6 October 2020

India test-fires new missile systems

(lm) India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) on Monday successfully tested its indigenously developed Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART) system, which the organization said will be a “game changer” in anti-submarine warfare. The flight testing of the new anti-submarine missile followed the test-firing of an advanced version of the Shaurya surface-to-surface nuclear-capable ballistic missile on October 3. The Shaurya missile can strike targets at a range of around 800 kilometers and will complement the existing class of missile systems. [The Logical Indian] [The Print] [The Drive]

Earlier last week, the DRDO successfully tested an ‘extended range’ variant of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile off the coast of Balasore in Odisha. The supersonic cruise missile is produced by BrahMos Aerospace, an India-Russian joint venture, and can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft, or from land platforms. [The Week]

Against the backdrop of heightened tension with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the DRDO, Indian Ministry of Defense’s top research and development arm, has recently been carrying out a series of missile tests. Last month, the organization successfully test-fired a Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV), tutting the country in a select club of few (US, China, Russia) that have demonstrated such this technology [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]. Moreover, on September 22, the DRDO successfully conducted flight tests of Abhyas, a Highspeed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT) [see AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5].

6 October 2020

India, China agree to hold 7th round of military talks to resolve border issue

(lm) India and China on September 30 held the 19th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) to review the current situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). During the inter-ministerial meeting, both sides agreed to follow-up on the five-point consensus reached between Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart and State Councilor Wang Yi in Moscow on September 10 [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [The Tribune] [The Print 1]

In his extensive address, the Chinese Ambassador to India showed no sign of the rancor expressed by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) the previous day. On Tuesday, the Chinese MFA had refused to recognize the Union Territory of Ladakh and, in a separate statement, said it would abide only by a “very clear” border alignment first spelt out in 1959 by late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai – a claim explicitly rejected by India then and since. [The Diplomat] [South China Morning Post]

The two countries further agreed to hold the next round of senior military on October 12 with a specific agenda of firming up a roadmap for disengagement of troops from the friction points. The composition of the Indian delegation for the 12 October talks could remain the same as that of 21 September when the two sides met at Moldo, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

Then, talks had yielded a joint statement – the first since the two delegations started talks in June to end the border crisis that had started in May when India detected multiple intrusions into Ladakh [see AiR No. 19, May/2020, 2]. While exchanging “candid” and “in-depth” views “on stabilizing the situation along the LAC in the India – China border areas both sides agreed to stop deploying more troops to their contested border and avoid any action that might lead to an aggravation of the situation on the ground. Still, a tangible breakthrough on de-escalation eluded the marathon talks. [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

The situation along the LAC also found mention in the remarks made by the Indian Air Force (IAF) chief. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria described the situation along the LAC as being in an “uneasy no-war-no-peace-status”, whose future development would largely depend on the outcome of the ongoing talks. Further elaborating on the issue, the air chief also highlighted the substantial tactical and strategic capability enhancement gained by the recent acquisition of Rafale fighter jets [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]: “Air power will be a crucial enabler in our victory in any future conflict. It is, therefore, imperative that the IAF obtains and maintains a technological edge over our adversaries.” [Hindustan Times] [The Print 2]

6 October 2020

Indian delegation visits Myanmar, amidst ongoing border stand-off with China

(lm) Against the backdrop of China’s growing regional economic and political clout [see e.g. AiR No. 3, January/2020, 3AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2], India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla along with the country’s army chief visited Myanmar on October 4 and 5 to meet with State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi and the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces. In light of the ongoing border stand-off between its soldiers and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh, New Delhi expressed its concern over the possibility of Chinese military move through the India-Myanmar-China trijunction around Diphu Pass. Beyond the issue of border security, both sides also discussed the possibility of building a petroleum refinery in Myanmar that would involve an investment by India worth 6$ billion. [Times of India] [The Diplomat] [Hindustan Times] [Deccan Herald]

Previously, on October 1, both countries held the 19th round of Foreign Office Consultations through video link. During the meeting, the foreign secretary reiterated New Delhi’s commitment to infrastructure projects in Myanmar, must significantly the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the 2008-launched Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP), which is supposed to link India’s Calcutta port to the Sittwe deep-water port in Myanmar, as well as facilitate land connectivity. Initially scheduled to be completed by 2016, Harsh Shringla said that both sides were working to operationalize Sittwe port by the first quarter of 2021. Further, India will provide debt service relief under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative to Myanmar from between May and December to mitigate the economic knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Hindu]


6 October 2020

Taiwan-USA security relations: Defense Industry Conference kicked off

(dql) On Monday Taiwan and the USA have kicked off this year’s Defense Industry Conference, an annual two-day semi-official military exchange. Speaking on this occasion, Taiwan’s Deputy Defense Minister called on the USA to help strengthen the island’s defense against China, adding that this should not be limited to “tangible weapons and equipment,” but also include joint efforts “in training, operational concepts, capability assessment, intelligence sharing, and armament cooperation.”

To demonstrate China’s assertiveness towards Taiwan, he cited more than 4.000 responses of Taiwanese fighter jets to incursions by People’s Liberation Army warplanes so far this year, compared with 1.798 times in 2019, while vessels were sent out more than 7.500 times vessels to monitor PLA war and surveillance ships sailing in the Taiwan Strait or crossing the median line. In 2019 the number was close to 6.000. [South China Morning Post 1]

In a separate announcement, the Defense Ministry revealed plans to increase the frequency of calling up reservists, in an attempt to boost the combat readiness of its reserve forces. According to the plans, reservist call-ups would occur every year for two weeks. Compared with currently bi-annual call-ups for five to seven days training. [Focus Taiwan]

The Defense Industry Conference and the announcement on the reserve force come at a when Beijing’s military is muscle-flexing on an unprecedented scale, with record numbers of warplanes entering Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), with the latest being Chinese military surveillance aircraft spotted flying over the southwest sector of its ADIZ on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. [South China Morning Post 2] [Asia Times] [AiR September/2020, 4]


6 October 2020

Cross-strait relations: China blocks Wikipedia at the World Intellectual Property Organization 

(dql) In a latest move to force multilateral bodies to comply with its stance on Taiwan, China – with backing from Russia, Iran, and Pakistan and against the USA, the UK, and Canada – has effectively blocked Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia’s parent, from gaining observer status at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) by deferring Wikimedia’s application for such a status at last week’s WIPO assembly in Geneva. Beijing cited “a large amount of content and disinformation in violation of one-China principle” on Wikimedia websites, accusing Wikimedia of “carrying out political activities through its member organizations which could undermine the state sovereignty and territorial integrity [of China].”

Taiwan accused China of trying to censor Wikimedia Foundation, warning of WIPO becoming “an agent of Chinese expansionism in global organizations.” [Yahoo News] [CNS News]

For insights into the geopolitics of bidding for leadership positions in UN specialized agencies and China’s efforts and successes therein, see Yaroslav Trofimov, Drew Hinshaw, and Kate O’Keeffe in [Wall Street Journal].

Chinese representatives are currently heading four of the 15 UN specialized agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the U.N. Industrial Development Organization. No other country – including the United States, the UN’s biggest funder – has a citizen heading more than one of the UN specialized agencies.


6 October 2020

China-Japan relations: Tokyo protests Chinese digital museum of disputed East China See islands 

(dql) China reassured its claims to the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea by launching an online “museum” showcasing material to “help visitors understanding why China has indisputable sovereign rights over the territory.” [Global Times]

Diaoyu Islands or Senkaku islands in Japanese refer to a group of uninhabited islands that are administered by Japan but claimed by both countries. The dispute increased to strain Sino-Japanese relations after Tokyo bought the islands from a private owner in September 2012. Now, Japan has lodged a diplomatic protest against the Chinese claims. [The Star Online] [Japan News]

6 October 2020

China-Canada relations: Canadian warship sails through Taiwan Strait

(dql) A Canadian warship has sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, in a latest sign of deteriorating Sino-Canadian relations. Relations between Beijing and Canada begun to sour with the arrest of the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies, Meng Wanzhou, in late 2018 based on a warrant from the US, which accuses her of bank fraud for misleading HSBC about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran and causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions law. Soon after Meng’s detention, China arrested Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, charging them with espionage. [Reuters]

6 October 2020

China-US military relations: Pentagon to deploy drones for maritime operation to Southeast Asia

(dql) The US Department of Defense announced that it is reprogramming “hunter-killer” drones, namely its MQ-9 Reapers, for maritime operations in Southeast Asia. MQ-9 Reapers possess a 40-hour endurance with a maximum altitude of 40,000 feet and a payload capacity up to 2.5 tons allowing to equip them with air to surface missiles and laser-guided bombs. The Reapers have been earlier used in Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq where Iranian Al-Quds Brigade Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed in Baghdad last January by such a drone. [Express]

Prior to the announcement, related exercises have been conducted in September with the Navy’s Third Fleet, which deploys carrier strike groups, submarines, and other sea vessels and aircraft to the Eastern Pacific, along with Air Force C-130s, and special warfare and Marine Corps personnel. [Air Force Magazine]

While China’s Foreign Ministry lodged “stern representations” with the US over the move, Chinese state-run media newspaper Global Times downplays the threats posed by the drones and cites analysts confirming that the “MQ-9 is not worth worrying about for China,” calling the deployment decision a “ploy […] to make this ‘obsolete’ drone look useful again.” [Global Times]

In a related development, India has revealed that it has ordered six US-made MQ-9B Sky Guardian drones to be deployed over the next few months. The six drones are part of a 3 billion USD order whose remainder of 24 drones Delhi will purchase over the next few years. [EurAsian Times]

Meanwhile, Iran presented itself as a drone-power in an exhibition last week showcasing various types of its drones, among them the Shahed 129 used for airstrikes in the Syrian Civil War and for border patrol on the country’s eastern border. [The Jerusalem Post]

For a brief historical account on Iran as a drone-power see Thomas Harding in [The National] who suggests that “[t]hrough luck, espionage and clever engineering,” the country has become an acknowledged player in unmanned warfare, with a drone industry second only to Israel in the Middle East. 

6 October 2020

China-USA diplomatic relations: Beijing mobilizes 26 countries to condemn US 

(dql) On behalf of 26 countries, Beijing on Monday issued a joint statement at the General Debate of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly criticizing the USA and other Western countries for hindering a global response to the pandemic by having imposed sanctions on countries “contrary to the purpose and principles of the UN Charter and international law, multilateralism and the basic norms of international relations.” The statement demanded the sanctions to be immediately lifted.

Asian countries backing this statement include Cambodia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Laos, Myanmar, and Pakistan. Other countries include Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Belarus, Burundi, Cameroon, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Namibia, Nicaragua, Palestine, Russia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Sudan, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. [Channel News Asia]

Among these countries Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela are currently facing “unilateral coercive measures” of the USA, other Western states, and the European Union. 

6 October 2020

China-US security relations: US reports urge tougher China policy

(dql) The Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives last week released a report that claims the “United States’ intelligence community has not sufficiently adapted to a changing geopolitical and technological environment increasingly shaped by a rising China.” It, therefore, demands a “significant realignment of resources,” warning that otherwise the US “will fail to achieve the outcomes required to enable continued U.S. competition with China on the global stage for decades to come, and to protect the U.S. health and security.” [House of Representative, USA]

Another report of the China Task Force of Republican members of the House of Representatives dismisses the strategy of engagement with China as it was pursued since both countries established diplomatic ties in 1979 as a failure. The GOP’s ‘task force’ calls for more than 400 changes to the existing US China policy and warns that “leniency and accommodation of the CCP and its oppressive agenda is no longer an option.” [Scribd]

6 October 2020

China: Space program advancing

(dql) Against the background of a new wave of space exploration internationally, China is working on rockets capable of sending astronauts to land on the moon as evidenced by the presentation of a new launch vehicle at the 2020 China Space Conference in Fuzhou last month. 

With no date for a test flight or a potential lunar landing announced yet, experts see Chinese not yet ready to send astronauts to the moon though, citing the country’s space technology currently not able to meet requirements for moon landing. []

For a brief account of the latest developments in China’s space capabilities with a focus on the recent launch of a reusable military spacecraft and what that means for the US Space Force, see Malcolm Davis and Charlie Lyons Jones in [Australian Strategic Policy Institute: The Strategist].

6 October 2020

Thailand: Higher costs for high-speed rail

(nd) The Thai government announced that another THB 12 billion is needed for the first phase of the high-speed rail from Bangkok to Korat, amounting to THB 50.6 billion in total. The overall budget for the 617-kilometer line that will eventually reach Nong Khai on the border with Laos is THB179 billion (US$5.7 billion).  Funds were approved in 2017, following an agreement with China, which is building the railway and extending loans. Following the agreement, three Chinese state enterprises — the National Development and Reform Commission of China, China Railway International and China Railway Design Corporation — are hired, who are expected to design the high-speed train and related systems, train the staff and build the system. The high-speed rail is expected to be completed in 2025.

The line is an important part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and it is assumed that it will eventually extend onward to the city of Nong Khai, across the Mekong River from Lao capital Vientiane. In Laos, there is a railway project under construction connecting the capital with China’s Yunnan province, linking it to the Chinese national high-speed rail network.

Last week, the rail base for the initial segment was completed and the project handed over to the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), which will work with the three Chinese firms to build the railway. Having been postponed earlier, Covid-19 repercussions on Thai economy might cause further delays: According to an economic outlook published by the World Bank, Thailand is facing an economic contraction of between 8.3 and 10.4 percent in 2020 – the worst of any nation in Southeast Asia. Additionally, the possibility for Chinese engineers and laborers to enter Thailand is in jeopardy.  [Coconuts Bangkok] [Bangkok Post] [The Diplomat]

6 October 2020

Mongolia: Anti-Chinese protests 

(dql) Ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Mongolia, Mongolian protesters took to streets in Ulaanbaatar to demand the release of ethnic Mongolians arrested in China for criticizing a controversial language policy which was introduced in neighboring Inner Mongolia last month and which reduces Mongolian as instructing language in schools. 

Protests, which erupted in Inner Mongolia over this policy, were swiftly suppressed by the Chinese authorities. [The Nation, Pakistan] [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1] [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2

6 October 2020

Taiwan: Constitutional revisions on the island’s political status? 

(dql) In a bold move, legislators of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) proposed constitutional changes concerning Taiwan’s political and territorial status of Taiwan to bring the constitution in accordance with what they claim political realities. Taiwan’s constitution has been promulgated in 1947 before the Chinese Kuomintang Party settled to Taiwan in the wake of its defeat against the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. The Kuomintang sponsored Constitution refers to ‘One China’ which Beijing claims to represent. 

Among the proposed changes is the removal of the term ‘national unification’ from the preface to the ‘Additional Articles’ of the constitution, which are the revisions and amendments to the original constitution. Furthermore, the proposal seeks to change the wording from “To meet the requisites of the nation prior to national unification,” to “To meet the requisites of national development,”. Another critical proposal refers to a contested phrase which occurs both in the main text of the Constitution and the Additional Articles, stating “the territory of the Republic of China, defined by its existing national boundaries.” The proposed revision would refer Taiwan’s national territory as “regions in which the Constitution has validity.” [Focus Taiwan 1]

The proposed constitutional amendment would represent a significantly sincere rejection of Beijing’s One China policy possible and comes amid highly strained cross-strait relations between Taipei and Beijing, with official communication channels shut down since independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) assumed power in 2016. 

In a related development, Taiwan’s parliament has actually set up an ad hoc committee to review revisions to the constitution. The committee consists of 39 members 22 of them belonging the DPP, 14 to main opposition Kuomintang and the remain three to two minor parties. As a last step to really change the Constitution, the people would have to vote for the change in a referendum. [Focus Taiwan 2]

6 October 2020

China: Muslim schoolgirls protest ban on headscarf on Hainan island 

(dql) Muslim schoolgirls of the Utsul minority last week staged a protest against an order issued earlier last month under which Utsul girls and women are required to put off their headscarf before entering schools and government offices. [South China Morning Post]

Utsuls are a Chamic-speaking East Asian ethnic group which lives on the island of Hainan, China’s smallest and southernmost province. Under Chinese law, they are subsumed under the Hui, Chinese speaking adherents of Islam and one of the 55 ethnic minorities officially acknowledged by the Chinese government. [France 24] [Bitter Winter]

6 October 2020

China: Small protest in Hong Kong on Chinese National Day

(dql) On 1st October, China’s National Day, Hong Kong citizen took to the streets to express their discontent with both the city government and Beijing. However, different from last year, only a small number of protesters faced 6000 police. Some observers attribute the decline on the impact of Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong claiming that public discontent remains high while voicing it has become too risky. [New York Times] [AiR No. 40, October/2019, 1]

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, lauding the national security law for having brought back peace and stability to the city, vowed to resist any pressure from hostile foreign governments. [VoA] [South China Morning Post]

In a related development, Chinese authorities in Shenzhen after weeks of silence formally approved the arrest of 12 Hong Kong activists who were detained in August after being caught when they were trying to flee China for Taiwan and charged 10 of them with illegal border transgressing and two of them with helping the others escape Hong Kong. [Aljazeera] [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]


6 October 2020

China: Five-Year Plan endorsed by CCP politburo

(dql) The Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party last week endorsed the 14th Five-Year Plan which identifies as its core “innovative, coordinated, green, open, and inclusive growth,” with annual growth set at 6.5%. The plan’s pledged promotion of ecological sustainability as mandatory target, echoes President Xi Jinping’s recent announcement to make China carbon neutral by 2060. The plan is expected to be passed at the Party’s Central Committee meeting end of October. [China.Org] [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

6 October 2020

China makes Xi Jinping’s doctrine mandatory university subject while purge goes on

(dql) With the start of the autumn semester in September, 37 elite universities across China introduced mandatory classes on the thought of President Xi Jinping on “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. Xi presented his doctrine publicly first at the 2017 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) National Congress that became enshrined in the Constitution in 2018. [Nikkei Asian Review] prominent party members, including former estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang and Cai Xia, a former professor at the Central Party School, the Party’s elite cadre training unit in Beijing. The former has been sentenced to 18 years in prison while the latter, currently in American self-exile, has been expelled from the party. 

It can also be seen in line with a recent party campaign directed at the law enforcement apparatus to ensure loyalty and discipline from police officers, judges, and state security agents. Widely seen as a purge, the campaign calls on cadres to “drive the blade in” and “scrape poison off the bone,” to expose wayward colleagues. [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]  [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5] [New York Times]

In a related development, a former senior disciplinary inspector of China’s top anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, is under investigation accused of “suspected serious violation of laws and party rule”. [Bloomberg]

29 September 2020

Taiwan: Air force drill and missile tests conducted

(dql) Last week, Taiwan’s military conducted a joint air defense drill simulating a response to an enemy air attack, involving all of Taiwan’s air bases, as well as naval and surface-to-air missile units, and tested supersonic anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles, simulating an interception operation. [Focus Taiwan]

The drill an tests comes at a time when Chinese warplanes have been conducting flights entering the Taiwan’s air defense identification zone in high frequency over the past month. [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times cited experts to confirm that tests revealed that Taiwan does not stand any chance in a military clash with China. [Global Times]

29 September 2020

Thailand: Worries over possible Bank of Thailand loan for dam project

(py) NGO’S, the Rak Chiang Kong group and the Thai public sector network of the eight provinces in the Mekong Basin, have expressed their concerns over possible loans from the Bank of Thailand to the construction of the Luang Prabang dam claiming geo-political, sociological and environmental risks.

The construction of the dam would not only be a highly potential natural catastrophe but would also represent a geo-political risk with Chinese power growing in the region. Lead developer of the Luang Prabang Hydropower Project is the “Petroleum Vietnam” enterprise. Some private Thai companies seem to also plan to invest in the project as well. [Prachathai, in Thai] 

Dam constructions in the Mekong River basin have always been a controversial issue as the integrity of the entire region depends heavily on the Mekong River. The Mekong River Commission’s secretariat concluded that the Xayaburi dam, which was completed in 2019, did not at that point comply with the World Bank’s standard. According to a Thai geologist, the building of the new dam in an earthquake-prone region could pose a great risk to the famed UNESCO-World Heritage City of Luang Prabang and further cited the dam as ‘’high risk”. [Asia Sentinel]

As a partner in China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI), Laos seems to be one of the victims in the debt trap whereby the countries have to compromise their sovereignty after defaulting on their infrastructure-related debts owed to China. Though Laos could approach the International Monetary Fund under its COVID-19 Financial Assistance and Debt Service relief response, the government preferably resort to China as the IMF agreement would demand greater financial transparency. Laos was reported as a country with no significant progress in the 2019 Fiscal Transparency Report by the U.S. Department of State. [See also AiR NO. 37, September/2020, 3]

29 September 2020

Philippines: Military chief of staff to ask Facebook to restore account

(nd) After Facebook took down more than 100 fake pages and accounts linked to the Philippine army and police targeting activists and dissidents as well as China-based accounts backing President Duterte, General Gilbert Gapay, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Philippines’ Armed Forces highest ranking officer, has asked Facebook head of public policy in the Philippines to restore the accounts, specifically the Hands Off Our Children (HOOC) page. According to Facebook, however, the pages had engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” and, among other activities, “artificially boost[ed] the popularity of content.”

Facebook in an earlier statement deemed the account as part of systematic propaganda against “communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing, the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines”. Their action intensified between 2019 and 2020. The page in question was administered by Army Capt. Alexandre Cabales, chief of the Army Social Media Center, who was the operator of a network of accounts with a similar agenda as the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) of the US-based Atlantic Council found. The request made by General Gapay to restore the HOOC page was a “clear admission” of the AFP’s hand in maintaining a “troll army”, member of the House of Representatives Gabriela Arlene Brosas said.

Meanwhile, progressive members of the House of Representatives warned that there are hints that China might meddle in the next presidential election, and referred to its Facebook account based in Fujian, China, which was also removed, allegedly supporting the presidential bid of President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, who is a member of the House of Representatives for Davao City. [Philippine Inquirer] [The Diplomat] [Manila Standard]

29 September 2020

US ambassador, Cambodian Defense Minister meet in the wake of sanctions fallout, but Hun Sen lashes out at West, international community 

(jn) US ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy and Cambodian Minister of National Defense Tea Banh met last week after the US slapped new sanctions on the Chinese state-owned company UDG. UDG is building the Dara Sakor investment zone project in Cambodia’ Koh Kong province which is part of the BRI and suspected of serving as a front for a future Chinese military installation [See also AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

Touching on a similar bone of contention, the Cambodian Defense Minister sought to reassure that the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk Province, will be used exclusively by the Cambodian navy and no other country’s navy, namely the Chinese. It would, however, welcome vessels from any other navy. Anyway, he continued, waters at Ream Naval Base were small and shallow and could only accommodate one large ship or several small ships, thus the base were suited only for the Cambodian navy. [Cambodian Ministry of National Defense Press Release] []

Like the Dara Sakor development, the Ream Naval Base has also come under heavy scrutiny by ASEAN neighbors and the US after reports of a deal between China and Cambodia emerged last year that would have a Chinese company construct new piers in exchange for a 30-year-long presence of the Chinese navy (PLAN) [See also AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]. Cambodia has repeatedly denied allegations that the country may plan for a permanent Chinese military presence, which would also be forbidden under Cambodia’s constitution – something the Defense Minister pointed out as well in his exchange with the US ambassador. Given Cambodia’s ever closer relationship with China in political, military and economic matters, however, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s vocal dismissals of such reports as “fake news” have also done little to quell suspicion. [Cambodianess]

A US embassy spokesperson told Radio Free Asia Washington was hopeful that the talks will help find a way to expand military-to-military cooperation. Cambodia’s Defense Ministry had abruptly suspended the annual “Angkor Sentinel” joint exercises with the U.S. military in 2017 and has so far failed to follow up with the same or another format. According to observers, such moves indicate Cambodia was accepting declining relations with Western countries in favor of better ones with rising powers like China. [Radio Free Asia]

As a symptom for the demise of relations with the West and in a contrast to the pleasantries exchanged between the US ambassador and the Defense Minister, Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at the West in a statement released on Monday on occasion of the International Day of Peace. He lamented that Western countries had failed to recognize Cambodia’s “great achievements” in the last decades and that his country had fallen victim to “double standards”. Regarding criticism of his government’s human rights record, the Prime Minister rehashed a common theme alleging that “this human rights issue” was a political tool or pretense for interfering with domestic affairs and the sovereignty of countries like Cambodia. [South China Morning Post] [Phnom Penh Post]

PM Hun Sen then capped the week on Saturday with pre-recorded remarks to the virtual 75th session of the UN General Assembly by criticizing the partial suspension of the “Everything But Arms” trade privileges that the European Union had granted Cambodia but withdrew in part in August over persistent human rights abuses and anti-democratic repression in the country [See also AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]. He attacked the EU’s decision as “biased”, “unfair” and revealing of “hypocritical double standards” and blamed the “political ambitions” and “opportunistic agenda” of some countries. Hun Sen also claimed that certain developed countries would punish developing countries for an imperfect nation-building process who, however, had a limited capacity to protect fundamental political and social rights. [VOA] [Cambodianess] [Khmer Times]

29 September 2020

Myanmar: Chinese state media accuses Western NGOs of China bashing

(lf) The Chinese state media Global Times has accused Western NGOs operating in Southeast Asia to fuel public resentment against Chinese development projects. According to the media statement especially in Myanmar NGOs have been breaching their political neutrality and engaged in fueling anti-China investment projects through environmental concerns. The article accuses NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy to fund Burmese NGOs to oppose Chinese investment projects. Local NGOs such as the in Rakhine located Shwe Gas Project (SGP) which opposed the China’s Trans-Burma pipeline strongly oppose this statement. [Irrawaddy] [Global Times]

29 September 2020

Malaysia: Ambassador refuses to follow US-imposed sanctions

(nd) In the ongoing conflict between China and the US, Malaysian Ambassador to China Raja Datuk Nushirwan Zainal Abidin said Malaysia will not pick sides and follow unilateral US sanctions, but will only recognize sanctions endorsed by the UN Security Council.

In August this year, the US imposed sanctions on 24 Chinese companies including subsidies of the China Communications Construction Company for allegedly participating in the South China Sea militarization. After a standoff between a Malaysian oil exploration vessel and a Chinese survey ship in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that lasted almost a month, there was no comment on the issue from Putrajaya. [Malay Mail]

29 September 2020

Indonesia: President to warn of US-China tension

(nd) In a prerecorded statement for the 75th UN General Assembly, Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo voiced concerns about mounting tension between the US and China are to intensify conflict in Southeast Asia. “War will benefit no one,” Jokowi said and “there is no point of celebrating victory among ruins. There is no point of becoming the largest economic power in the midst of a sinking world.”

Parallelly, Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte emphasized the necessity of a rule-based cooperation in the South China Sea, indirectly criticizing China.

Amidst US- Chinese rivalry, Southeast Asia is in a difficult position for being economically entangled with China, the leading trade partner of both nations, and having leaned on China’s  Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for infrastructure development, but yet dependent on long-standing American security guarantees. In the disputed South China Sea, both nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) overlap with Beijing’s “nine-dash line”.

Both speeches resonate with thoughts uttered earlier this year by Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong, for both superpowers to deescalate their tensions. [See also AiR No. 36, September 2020, 2] [The Diplomat]

29 September 2020

Philippines: Duterte’s first UN speech criticizing China indirectly

(nd) During his first speech at UN General Assembly at the 75th session, president Rodrigo Duterte for the first time since he assumed power in 2016 mentioned the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines, saying China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are in breach of international law.

Duterte said the decision “is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.” Without naming China, Duterte said “we firmly reject attempts to undermine it [and…] welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for — the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition.” Last week in a verbal note, Germany, France and Great Britain reaffirmed their support for the implementation of the ruling, again rejecting China’s historical claim over the waters. The Permanent Court of Arbitration nullified China’s nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters in 2016.

While his initial approach was knitting closer ties to China and separating from its biggest military ally, the US, Duterte’s speech can be seen as part of the government shift back towards the US, with China continuing to move aggressively in the South China Sea. Additionally, China has not fulfilled its promise of billions of dollars for infrastructure projects. Earlier this year, a decision to end a 22-year old agreement on joint military exercises with the US was suspended. This month, a US marine found guilty of killing a transgender Filipina in 2015 was pardoned by Duterte. Still, China is not completely off Duterte’s list, announcing China and Russia will be prioritized in sourcing a Covid-19 vaccine over Western drug makers.

Still, Duterte is accused of seriously violating them since he initiated his controversial war on drugs, killing 9,000 people. According to a Human Rights Watch report, those numbers rose by 50 % during the Covid-19 lockdown. Human rights advocates claim Duterte suppresses critical media outlets. Last week, the European parliament passed a resolution condemning human rights violations and threatening to revoke its trade benefits. This week, a bill was proposed to the US Congress – HR 8131 or the Philippine Human Rights Act – to block funding for security forces in the Philippines until the government puts an end to human rights violations. Most recently, Amnesty International emphasized in a report that stronger measures from United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and International Criminal Court (ICC) are “required to end human rights violations in the country, provide justice and reparations for thousands of families of victims, and hold those responsible to account.”

Yet, in his speech, Duterte upheld his policy, claimed anew he was protecting human rights against some who would “weaponize” them. He emphasized the lingering threat of terrorism and violent extremism against which his government is committed to protect the people from.

Additionally, Duterte uttered his commitment to ratify the United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Such a treaty will only come into effect upon the concurrence of at least two thirds of all members of the Senate, following the 1987 Constitution. Until now, 45 countries have ratified the treaty, five short of the 50 required for the pact to enter into force. The Philippines, among 122 other UN member-states, voted in favor of such a treaty in 2017. [FAZ (deutsch)] [Manila Times 1] [Borneo Bulletin] [Philippine Inquirer][Manila Bulletin] [Manila Times 2][Manila Times 3][Chiangrai Times] [Philstar] [Rappler]


29 September 2020

Philippines: Western powers will remain in South China Sea

(nd) Despite efforts of Southeast Asian nations to draft a Code of Conduct (CoC) in conjunction with China, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin reassured this will not result in Western powers kept away from the disputed waters.

Tensions between the US and China, inter alia in the South China Sea, are on the rise and were last voiced prominently during recent ASEAN meeting [See also AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3] [Bangkok Post]

29 September 2020

India, China agree to stop troop deployment along disputed border

(lm) Following a meeting of Indian and Chinese top commanders on September 21 at Moldo, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), both sides agreed to stop deploying more troops to their contested border and avoid any action that might complicate the tense situation there. Still, a tangible breakthrough on de-escalation eluded the marathon talks. [Al Jazeera] [Times of India]

Prior to the agreement, tensions between the two powers had persisted despite several attempts to find a diplomatic, military and political solution, including repeated negotiations in Moscow this month [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]. Last week, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh accused China of violating bilateral agreements and mutually agreed norms and expanding its troop deployments along the LAC [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

29 September 2020

India’s new fighter jets make “familiarization” flights near China border

(lm) India’s new French-made Rafale jets have made “familiarization” flights in operational areas including the Ladakh border region. The first five of a $9.4 billion Inter-Governmental Agreement for 36 Rafaele fighter jets were formally inducted on September 10, with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh calling them a “strong message” to New Delhi’s adversaries. [The Straits Times] [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

A total of 10 Rafale aircraft have been delivered to India so far, of which 5 stayed back in France to train Indian pilots. The first batch arrived at an Indian airbase on July 29, [AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1] and five more are expected to come in November. The delivery of all 36 Rafale aircraft is scheduled to be completed by 2021-end. [The EurAsian Times]

Still, French aviation giant Dassault and European conglomerate MBDA are yet to meet their commitments of transferring high technology to India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) as part of the deal relating to the procurement of the 36 Rafaele jets, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report published on September 23. [The Indian Express] [Times of India]

29 September 2020

India plans $3 billion drone deal with US to keep eye on border with China, reports say

(lm) India is preparing to acquire 30 General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper drones from the United States, in a deal valued at approximately $3 billion, India Today reported on September 23, citing sources. Accordingly, the Ministry of Defense has recently cleared the way for the procurement of an initial lot of six Reaper Medium Altitude Long Endurance drones worth $600 million. These six drones—two each for the Army, Navy and Air Force—are to be procured under a fast-track, government-to-government deal with the United States, indicating the urgency of the acquisition. The deal is therefore expected to get an “acceptance of necessity” (AON) at an upcoming meeting of the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. [India Today]

The remaining 24—eight drones for each service—will be acquired over the next three years under an ‘option clause’ in the contract. When the deal had been sealed three years ago, it only covered the delivery of 22 Sea Guardians (an unarmed maritime variant of the MQ-9) to the Indian Navy. In 2018, the agreement was then converted into a tri-services acquisition by the government, once the armed version of the MQ-9 was cleared for sale to India by the US.

Meanwhile, India’ Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) on September 22 successfully conducted flight tests of Abhyas, a Highspeed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT), from a test range in Odisha, defense sources said. [The New Indian Express]

29 September 2020

Taiwan: Taiwanese municipalities no longer referred to as “Chinese” on GCoM-website

(ef) The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM) has concluded that six Taiwanese municipalities that are members of the international group may keep their Taiwanese names on the website of the GCoM. Recently, the cities of Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung were classified as “China” on the website. It is a long-standing practice that international groups and companies must refer to Taiwan as being part of China, with China recently ramping up efforts to decrease the referral to Taiwan within international groups. However, the six cities jointly demanded that the GCoM change the registered names of their cities back to the original registered nationality, otherwise they would withdraw from the international group. According to the Taiwanese Foreign Minister, the EU helped the Taiwanese municipalities, although the EU traditionally keeps a low profile toward Taiwan. On Monday, the GCoM announced that the cities would be classified as Chinese-Taipei. [South China Morning Post] [Reuters]

29 September 2020

China-Japan relations: Leaders agree on wide range of cooperation amid persisting differences over disputed territories in the East China Sea

(dql) During their phone talk last Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga agreed on close cooperation to further development of bilateral ties – including high-level contacts to promote regional and international stability as well as cooperation on trade, North Korea and Japan’s efforts to retrieve Japanese victims of Pyongyang’s abductions in the 1970s and 1980s.

At the same time, differences over thorny issues were exchanged, including Beijing’s imposition of the national security law for Hong Kong and the territorial dispute over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, and claimed by both sides. In summer Chinese government ships had been sailing for more than 100 straight days in the waters around these islets. Suga reassured a hardline stance on the territorial dispute in the East China Sea, calling the islands an inherent part of Japan’s territory, both in terms of history and international law. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Reuters]  [NHK]

29 September 2020

China-USA brawl over diplomatic missions continues 

(dql) China has issued new instructions tightening actions of US diplomats posted in Hong Kong. A new order requires them to receive approval from China’s Foreign Ministry before meeting any Hong Kong officials. It applies to any official, private, social and video meetings, as well as to personnel of  any Chinese educational organization or society. [South China Morning Post]

The move is the latest in a string of tit-for-tat measures in the context of the dispute between Beijing and Washington over their respective diplomatic missions. In a move earlier this month, the USA announced new regulations under which senior Chinese diplomats would be required to obtain State Department approval before visiting US university campuses or holding cultural events with more than 50 people outside mission grounds. In July, the Chinese consulate in Houston was ordered to close over alleged involvement in espionage. China retaliated with an order to shut down the US consulate in Chengdu. In February and June, Washington designated Chinese media outlets as foreign missions requiring those to comply with rules which apply to foreign embassies and consulates in the United States, too. [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

29 September 2020

China-USA trade relations: Washington steps up pressure over Xinjiang and Chinese tech firms

(dql) The US House of Representatives last week passed the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention bill which requires any company that operates in Xinjiang or buys goods from there to prove their goods are not produced by forced labor. Lawmakers cited their intention to reign in and stop alleged forced labor from the Uighur community. [Deutsche Welle]

The move comes shortly after the Trump administration blocked imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over allegations that their production involved forced labor [Air No. 37, September/2020, 3], and is the latest in a string of US legislative efforts to pressure China over its Xinjiang policy where the Chinese government is accused of using forced labor and running internment camps for political indoctrination of Uighurs. In July, President Trump signed into law the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, authorizing the imposition of sanctions against Chinese officials believed to be implicate in the detention and persecution of Uighurs. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

China decried the bill, commenting that “the so-called problem of forced labor is totally a lie fabricated by some organizations and personnel in the United States and the West,” aimed at discrediting the government’s efforts to bring about development and progress in the region. [ABC News]

Echoing this, Chinese President Xi Jinping – speaking at a two-day conference last week which is believed to have set the direction of Chinese policy in Xinjiang for the next years – hailed recent developments in Xinjiang as a demonstration of the success of the government’s minority work in this region, with “people living in peace and contentment.” [Decan Herald]

On another front of the Sino-US trade dispute, Washington has ordered US companies to seek government approval prior to selling their technologies to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, China’s largest, partially state-run semiconductor company, citing the risk that their equipment could be used for military purposes. The restriction is the latest move in Washington’s crusade against Chinese technology companies. [VoA]

Meanwhile, a judge has issued a temporary block of an order from the Trump administration that was due on midnight of past Sunday and that would have banned the video sharing app TikTok, owned by Chinese internet technology company ByteDance, from being downloaded from U.S. app stores Apple and Google, while refraining from blocking a broader ban which is set for November 12 and which would make the use of the app entirely impossible in the USA. [The Guardian]

The ruling comes shortly after a deal had been concluded – and approved by Trump – between ByteDance and American multinational computer technology corporation Oracle and retail corporation Walmart to avoid a ban of TikTok operations in the USA. Under the deal, TikTok’s board will consist exclusively of American citizens, with a security committee led by a person with government security clearances and both the board members and the head of the security committee needing US government approval. The deal awaits approval from China. [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

In another blow to Trump’s trade measures against China, around 3.500 US companies, have sued the Trump administration over tariffs imposed on Chinese-made goods worth over 300 billion USD, arguing that Trump administration failed to impose tariffs within a required 12-month period as well as violated administrative procedures. [Aljazeera]

For details of the complaints, see Daniel J. Ikenson in [Cato Institute] who draws attention to the possibility that a President Biden might reform US trade-related acts to close loopholes and rein in the excessive powers currently bestowed on the president.

In an earlier move, the World Trade Organization ruled that USA breached global trading rules by imposing multibillion-dollar tariffs in Trump’s trade war with China. Washington was quick to reject the WTO’s ruling saying that the decision reveals the inadequacy of the organization to stop China’s trade misconduct. [BBC]

29 September 2020

China-USA great power rivalry: Beijing scores with carbon neutrality pledge amid Trump-Xi barbs traded over Covid-19 at UN General Assembly

(dql) Antagonism and mutual accusations dominated the speeches Chinese and US Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump delivered via pre-recorded videos at the United Nations’ General Assembly where discussions centered at the coronavirus pandemic.

The US President fired a salvo of criticism against China, calling on the international community to join hands to fight the “fierce battle against the invisible enemy, the China virus,” and to “hold accountable the nation, which unleashed this plague onto the world, China,” and reiterating his accusations of China (and a ‘China-controlled’ World Health Organization) deliberately misinforming the world about human-to-human transmissions of the virus. He further attacked China for abusing trade over decades and for being the word’s environment polluter. [White House]

Less confrontative in formulation, but equally determined in presenting his counter-accusations, the Chinese President reassured that China has “no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot one with any country,” adding in a thinly veiled attack on the USA that in “[f]acing the virus,” the international community should reject “[a]ny attempt of politicizing the issue or stigmatization,” and “follow the guidance of science, give full play to the leading role of the World Health Organization, and launch a joint international response to beat this pandemic.”

Furthermore, countering Trump’s attack on China as the world’s worst environment polluter, Xi took many at surprise by announcing that China will strive to peak its CO2 emission within this decade to become carbon neutral in 2060. [CGTN]

Xi’s pledge to make China – the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide gas – achieve carbon neutrality brings the country closer to the European Union which has committed itself to carbon neutrality by 2050 in its European Green Deal. Brussels was quick to welcome China’s announcement, calling in “an important step in our global fight against climate change under the Paris Agreement,” while warning that “a lot of work remains to be done.” [Climate Home News] [European Commission]

It reflects China’s assertiveness in claiming a leading role in global governance in area in which Trump has withdrawn the USA from the Paris Climate Agreement and has dismissed and continues to dismiss scientific evidence of climate change, as seen in the context of the recent wildfires in California. [The Atlantic]

For a discussion of the geopolitics behind China’s carbon neutrality pledge as well as of the challenges China is facing in turning itself into a carbon neutral country see Lili Pike in [Vox] and Niharika Tagotra in [The Diplomat].

Meanwhile, James Goldgeier and Bruce W. Jentleson in [Foreign Affairs] look for a proper understanding of a fundamental change of the US position in the world currently taking place. Arguing that the USA has undergone a historical development from being “apart” from the word (until 1945) to “atop” (1945-recently) to currently “amid” the world,  the USA needs to abandon the thinking that global leadership is an American entitlement, and acknowledge global leadership roles and capacities of other powers. 

29 September 2020

China: Advancing military air and space capabilities

(dql) China’s first homemade unmanned helicopter – the AR-500C -, successfully completed a maiden flight in high-altitude areas after conducting a range of tests including climbing, hovering, rotating and other operations maneuvers. Earlier in May, China successfully tested a helicopter drone in a low-altitude region. It is believed that the AR-500C, besides its usage for reconnaissance and communication relays, can be equipped for further functions including electronic disruption, target indication, fire strikes, cargo delivery, and nuclear radiation as well as chemical contamination reconnaissance.

The testing, hailed by Chinese state-run Global Times as a milestone in the country’s drone development, comes amid speculations that the drones might by soon also be deployed in Ladakh, the conflict region in the ongoing territorial dispute between China and India. [Republic World] [EurAsian Times]

Meanwhile, China expanded its Earth observation capabilities with the launch of two satellites last Saturday, to collect infrared and hyperspectral images, which contain information to help analysts distinguish between different types of features on Earth, such as vegetation, human-made infrastructure, and water quality. The launch is the latest of so far 29 launches in this year, signaling the country’s acceleration in the implementation of its space program. [Space News

In a related move, a squadron of 20 airmen of the US Space Force had been deployed earlier this month to Qatar’s Al-Udeid Air Base, the first foreign deployment of the sixth branch of the US military since its establishment in December 2019. Commenting on the deployment, the director of Space Force troops at Al-Udeid warned of ‘’other nations that are extremely aggressive in preparing to extend conflict into space.” In an earlier statement, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper accused China and Russia of turning space into a “warfighting domain,” and warned of “killer satellites, directed energy weapons, and more in an effort to exploit our systems and chip away at our military advantage.” [CBS] [The Sociable]

For an account of current international cooperation in space, including Sino-US cooperation, see Makena Young in [World Politics Review] who suggests that – despite space becoming increasingly weaponized – rivaling powers “can come together to advance science, exploration and their security aspirations, regardless of their militaries’ endeavors in space or on Earth.”

29 September 2020

China continues military muscle flexing

(dql/ef) China on Monday kicked off five simultaneous drills along different parts of its coast, including the Paracel Islands in the disputed South China Sea as well as in the East China Sea, the Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea. It is the second time within two months after concurrent exercises were conducted in August. [Reuters] [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]

In a related move, Chinese war planes have entered the Taiwanese Air Defense Identification Zone for a forty-six time within nine days. On two consecutive days on Friday, 18 September, and Saturday, 19 September, Taiwan’s air force intercepted nearly 40 jets of the People’s Liberation Army. [Aljazeera] [CNBC] [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

29 September 2020

Nepal: Oppositional Congress party criticizes MoFa’s handling of alleged Chinese intrusions

(lm) Nepal’s main opposition party, the Nepali Congress, on Thursday criticized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for issuing a hasty clarification on an alleged encroachment of Nepal’s territory by China. An inspection team earlier found that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had constructed at least nine buildings in Nepal’s northwestern Humla district, which borders the Tibet Autonomous Region. [Wion]

After locals had apprised the district authorities of the construction, Nepal’s Home Ministry sent an inspection team to visit the area on September 20. Finding that a border pillar was missing, the officials assumed that China had apparently taken advantage of the situation by encroaching into Nepal’s territory. A report prepared by the team was sent to the Home Ministry on September 22. In spite of the findings, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs the following day said that an inter-ministerial team in 2016 had already found the buildings in question to be located approximately one kilometer inside the Chinese territory from the Nepal-China border. [Times of India] [Swarajya]

Meanwhile, the border pillar, which was said to have been missing, was found the same day. [The Kathmandu Post]

In August, a report by the Survey Department of Nepal’s Agriculture Ministry had anew shed a light on China’s salami-slicing activities on border regions, claiming that Beijing has been encroaching on about 33 hectares of Nepali land at multiple locations spreading over seven bordering districts [see: AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. A report issued in November 2019, had found that four districts sharing a border with China – Sankhuwasabha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk and Humla – were seen losing territories in light of the diversion of rivers resulting from ongoing Chinese road construction in the Tibet Autonomous Region [see AiR No. 47, November/2019, 3].

29 September 2020

China/Hong Kong: Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong arrested amid new rules to tighten control over media

(dql) Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was arrested for participating in an unauthorized assembly in the context of a protest against a government ban on face masks in October 2019. 

The arrest adds to multiple unlawful assembly charges or suspected offenses that he in facing related to last year’s pro-democracy protests. [Deutsche Welle] [AiR No. 41, October/2019, 2]

The Hong Kong government, meanwhile, issued new guidelines under which the city’s police will recognize journalists from “internationally recognized and renowned” foreign outlets only or from media organizations registered with the government information system. Excluded are journalists whose accreditations are granted by local associations such as the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), which acts as a trade union for journalists, and Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA). 

The move targets in particular freelance and student reporters who have played a vital role in covering the anti-government protests over the past year. While government officials justified the new guidelines with the aim to prevent fake news obstructing police work, critics view them as an attempt to further crack down on press and media freedom. [Yahoo News] [The Wire] [Nikkei Asian Review]

In a related move, a reporter with Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the city’s government broadcaster, who is known for her sharp and bold questioning of local officials on the protest at press conferences – including Chief Executive Carrie Lam and then-police commissioner Stephen Lo in July 2019 –, has had another 120 days added to her already three-year long probation as a civil servant. RTHK cited as reason that complaints made against her needed to be examined. In case she refuses to accept the extension, she will have to leave her post. [Coconuts] [EJ Insight]

Critics called the move a blow to press freedom in Hong Kong, with RTHK itself having becoming object of heightened scrutiny and restrictions, including the suspension of a satirical show over allegations of airing “denigrating and insulting” comments about the police. [Hong Kong Free Press] [New York Times]

Meanwhile, the police have banned a major anti-government march planned for October 1, the National Day, by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a coalition of advocacy groups, on grounds of public health and public order concerns. [Hong Kong Free Press]

29 September 2020

China: Xi Jinping critic sentenced to 18 years imprisonment 

(dql) A court sentenced Ren Zhiqiang, former Chinese Communist Party member and outspoken critic of President Xi Jinping, to 18 years in jail after it found him guilty of corruption and abuse of power during his term in office as head of a state-owned property company.

Ren disappeared in March, shortly after publishing an article in which he criticized Xi for his handling of the coronavirus and alluded to him as a “clown”. 

Already in 2016, Ren was disciplined for publicly questioning Xi’s demands that Chinese state media must stay absolutely loyal to the party, with his party membership put on probation and his highly popular account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, shuttered. [CNN]

In a separate development, human rights lawyer turned journalist Chen Qiushi who went missing after reporting about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan has been confirmed being under government supervision. Chen rose to prominence over this coverage of the Hong Kong protests last year. [BBC]

29 September 2020

China slams accusations of coercive trainings in Tibet 

(dql) China has fiercely condemned accusations of forcing Tibetan pastoralists and farmers to underdoing coercive, centralized “military-style” vocational trainings in the frame of its labor transfer policy in Tibet. [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief]

In response, Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times rejects the accusations as “fabricated” with “an evil intention of smearing Tibet,” while insisting that the trainings are part of the government’s efforts to alleviate poverty in this region and are attended by Tibetan herdsman and farmers on a voluntary basis to obtain skills for future employment. [Global Times]

In a related move, an opinion peace in [Xinhua] hailed China’s poverty alleviation policy as “a pioneering example of practical significance to the international community,” citing that China has lifted 850 million people out of poverty since the Chinese Communist Party took over power in China and reduced the number of impoverished people from almost 100 million in 2012 to currently 5.5 million. 

22 September 2020

India: Delhi Police arrest Indian freelance journalist, allegedly found working for Chinese intelligence

(lm) On September 14, Indian police arrested freelance journalist Rajeev Sharma for allegedly passing sensitive information about several topics, inlcuding India’s defense strategy and defense acquisitions, to Chinese intelligence officials for several years. Delhi police said on Saturday that they had seized confidential Defense Ministry documents from Mr. Sharma’s residence in New Delhi. Mr. Sharma was arrested under the Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law. If proven guilty, he may face up to 14 years in prison. [Deutsche Welle] [South China Morning Post]

Mr. Sharma was allegedly responsible for playing information on topics like Indian troop deployments on the Bhutan-India border, defense acquisitions, India’s military cooperation with Myanmar, and the Dalai Lama into Chinese officers’ hands. Along with Mr. Sharma, his two associates – a Nepali and a Chinese national, who is linked to the Chinese Intelligence agency Ministry of State Security (MSS) – were arrested for allegedly supplying the Indian journalist with money through shell companies in return for passing on sensitive information.

Before leaving active journalism in 2008, Rajeev Sharma had worked for several Indian news organizations and was most recently associated with Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank. The founding director of the Vivekananda International Foundation is Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Advisor. A webpage linking to Sharma’s work for the think tank has been removed.

From 2010 onwards he was writing for the Chinese media platform Global Times. The Chinese state media outlet soon came to express its stand against the arrest of Mr. Sharma. In an op-ed published on September 20, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, called the arrest a “petty trick”, adding that both the “information release” by the Indian government and the subsequent media coverage of the case were “inappropriate”. [Global Times]

22 September 2020

Vietnam indignant over US embassy’s editing of country map

(jn) Vietnam has reaffirmed its claim over the disputed Spratly and Paracel island chains in the South China Sea, after the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi edited the islands out of a map of Vietnam that it had posted on its Facebook page for a recent diplomatic event. The foreign ministry said that Vietnam has always considered the Paracel and Spratly Islands as inseparable parts of the Vietnamese territory and has said so in many international forums. The island chains with their resource-rich waters are a controversial subject in the South China Sea dispute between China and Vietnam.

After having first uploaded a map of Vietnam that also showed the island groups in a Facebook post on September 9 commemorating the start of the 53rd ASEAN Foreign Minister’s Meeting that day, the embassy later edited the post and replaced the original map with a version without the islands.

Officially, the US does not recognize the unilateral sovereignty of any claimant country over the Spratly and Paracel Islands – a position that was also reiterated in a statement by the embassy. [Radio Free Asia] [VN Express]


22 September 2020

Cambodia: US sanctions Chinese-owned company for human rights abuses, corruption 

(jn) Last Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions against the Tianjin-based and state-owned Chinese Union Development Group (UDG) under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for developing the Dara Sakor tourism zone in Koh Kong Province at the Cambodian coast, in particular for “seizure and demolition of local Cambodians’ land”. UDG is also designated for falsely registering as a Cambodian-owned entity to facilitate the land deal and for pressing ahead with the development even though some of the land extends into a near National Park. 

The Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control explicitly faults UDG for advancing China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI) that like in many cases would disproportionately serve China’s interests but has forced locals from their land and devastated the environment. It claims that UDG, aided by already sanctioned Cambodian general Kun Kim, used military force to threaten and forcibly expel villagers living on the land in question. UDG had ignored both pleas by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) and orders by the Cambodian government to stop its militarized landgrab. 

Additionally, the Treasury voiced its concern that China could set up a military installation under the guise of the Dara Sakor project which could undermine stability and peace in the region. 

In 2008, UDG was granted a 99-year lease with the Cambodian government for 36.000 hectares on which the UDG then launched the $3.8 billion Dara Sakor project. As the Department also points out, the size of the grant is in violation of Cambodian law which limits land concessions to 10.000 hectares. [U.S. Treasury Department Press Release]

In an immediate response, both Cambodia and China have criticized and questioned the sanctions notification and its reasoning. [Radio Free Asia 1] [Radio Free Asia 2]

Analysts and China-skeptics have long harbored doubts about the real intentions for developing Dara Sakor, because a military facility on the area could potentially upset the whole geopolitical balance of the region. The new port at Koh Kong will be a deep-water port and large enough to potentially host Chinese frigates and destroyers, as well as other vessels of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). According to experts, the Chinese consider commercial ports as a foot in the door for their navy, i.e. any deep-water commercial port has a potential dual purpose for receiving naval ships. A Koh Kong naval base would help China significantly shore up its blue-water capabilities to project power, and would be instrumental in protecting China’s sea lines of communication and maritime trade routes through the Malacca straits.

That is why Cambodia and its coastline have emerged as a strategic frontline amid the trade war and geopolitical tensions between the US and China given Beijing’s billion-dollar infrastructure investments there that amount to $34.1 billion since 2013. Phnom Penh has become the ASEAN-member that is China’s closest partner with implications both for the harmony within ASEAN and the South China Sea dispute. If the Koh Kong project indeed turns out to be a front for a Chinese naval base, it would put Cambodia firmly in China’s strategic camp at a time when US-China tensions are ratcheting in nearby waters.

Only in June of this year and July last year, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed reports as “fake news” according to which Cambodia had granted China exclusive access to a naval base in violation of its own constitutional provisions. The latest reports, however, did not concern the Dara Sakor project, but a second compound in Ream located further east at the Cambodian coastline [see AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]. [The Diplomat 1] [Asia Times] [South China Morning Post]

UDG is not only under suspicion to be China’s toehold in Cambodia considering the shady circumstances of how the land deal come to fruition but also because satellite images have given away the construction of a 3.4 kilometer runway that is much longer than necessary for a tourist resort and similar to other Chinese military air fields elsewhere. US Vice President Mike Pence even penned a letter to Hun Sen cautioning against the project and Chinese overreach. 

Notably, the new sanctions slapped on UDG for the Koh Kong development touch on a potential military use but focus on human rights abuses and detail the (illegal) circumstances of the acquisition. This begs the question why the Koh Kong-site has come into the sanctions-crosshairs of the US at this very moment given that the development with all its surrounding problems has been ongoing since 2008 and that UDG is by far not the only Chinese-backed company that harnesses such controversial tactics. Furthermore, the Ream naval base has seen greater scrutiny in recent years for possibly being a front for a future Chinese military installation. Still, the UDG remains under credible suspicion of paving the way for a Chinese military base which is only one of many controversial aspects of the development. It is also likely that UDG is ripe fruit for a sanctions regime with which Washington aims to rein in Beijing’s quest for dominance in the region.

A Chinese naval base in Cambodia would also further encircle Vietnam in its geopolitical standoff with China over the South China Sea, and could even rouse Thailand that has been standing more aloof from the South China conflict. [The Diplomat 2]

22 September 2020

Laos considers easing immigration policy for China and Vietnam 

(py) According to Lao Phattana Daily, a local news source, the fast-track immigration policy refers to bilateral legislation between Vietnam and China that would allow certain privileges such as a waiver for the 14-day quarantine for individuals including diplomatic personnel, technical experts and foreign labor for special projects.  [Laotian Times]  

Though Laos has been having the pandemic under control with the last confirmed case reported on 14 August and a total of 22 confirmed cases since the breakout, many fear a second wave could be on the verge with illegal entries to the country. [WHO


22 September 2020

Laotian-Chinese expressway Vientiane – Vang Vieng is set to open ahead of schedule

(py) On the occasion of the 45th National Day (2 December), the Vientiane-Vang Vieng expressway is set to open ahead of its scheduled completion in 2021. The expressway is the first section of the planned Vientiane-Boten expressway which is jointly planned by the Lao government and Chinese developers, a state construction enterprise from Yunnan province to connect the Capital, Vientiane with the northern province of Luang Namtha which borders China. [Laotian times]

The agreement for Lao’s first expressway between China Yunnan Construction and Investment Holding Group (“YCIH”) and the Lao Planning and Investment Ministry was signed in Vientiane on 4 April 2018. [Xinhuanet]

22 September 2020

Philippines: Lawsuit against China over South China Sea 

(nd) Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio will legally support the team suing Chinese president Xi Jinping for crimes against humanity for illegal incursions in the South China Sea. The lawsuit was filed by Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in March 2019 before the International Criminal Court (ICC) over near permanent destruction in the West Philippine Sea claimed by the Philippines as its exclusive economic zone. The ICC stated the case might not be within its jurisdiction. However, del Rosario emphasized the described act were not only within their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but also within Filipino territory. Additionally, they cited the ramming and sinking of a Filipino fishing boat in June 2019 that occurred within their EEZ. [Daily Express] 

22 September 2020

Pakistan: Army contingent participates in opening ceremony of Kavkaz 2020 in Russia

(lm) On Saturday, a contingent of the Pakistan armed forces participated in the opening ceremony of the Russian-led military exercise Kavkaz 2020 in Astrakhan in southern Russia. From September 21 to 26, roughly 150,000 military personnel are expected to participate in the country’s largest international military drill in many years. [The Express Tribune]

Beyond Russia and fellow Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) members China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, additional foreign participants reportedly will include Mongolia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Belarus, Turkey, Armenia, Turkmenistan and Myanmar. [The Jamestown Foundation] [The EurAsian Times]

India, initially scheduled to take part with 200 troops, ultimately dropped out on the excuse that Pakistan and China were included. In what observers believed to be a compensation for New Delhi’s withdrawal from the annual capstone strategic-operational exercise, the navies of the countries held joint maneuvers near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands earlier this month [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2].


22 September 2020

India, China: With neither side backing down, troops prepare for the winter

(lm) Thousands of Indian and Chinese troops are still locked in an impasse across the mountain passes of the Ladakh region and the banks of the glacial lake Pangong Tso, with neither side backing down. After foreign ministers from both countries had pledged last week to de-escalate tensions [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3], the top commanders of the Chinese and Indian armies met on September 21 at Moldo, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The details of the 14-hour long diplomatic-military talks are yet to be announced. [South China Morning Post 1South China Morning Post 2

Chinese troops were laying a network of fiber optic cables along the lake’s southern bank, two Indian officials said on September 16, suggesting Beijing was digging in for the long haul [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. Indian intelligence agencies noted similar cables that would provide forward troops with secure lines of communication to bases in the rear to the north of the lake about a month ago. China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday denied the allegations, but said that both countries would remain in communication through diplomatic and military channels. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China] [The Straits Times 1]

Against this backdrop, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh put the blame firmly on China while addressing Parliament on September 15, saying that Beijing had flouted bilateral agreements and mutually agreed norms that had hitherto allowed both sides to keep the peace despite having diverging perceptions of the LAC. Further elaborating on the issue, Mr. Singh said that several friction areas have been created along the LAC since China began to amass troops in April and tried to disrupt the traditional patrolling pattern of Indian troops the following month [see AiR No. 21, May/2020, 4]. [The Economic Times] [South China Morning Post 3]

The minister also announced that the government has doubled the budget for border infrastructure development along the LAC. As winter is expected to arrive by the end of the month, the military has also ramped up efforts to move equipment and supplies such as winter clothing and mountaineering gear to forward locations along the LAC as troops prepare to dig in for the winter. [Hindustan Times 1]

Noteworthy, India is set to open what is believed to be the world’s longest high-altitude tunnel, which will reduce journey time to the country’s remote disputed border region in Ladakh province. In June, it became known that New Delhi was looking to complete the construction of an all-weather artery that provides a reduction in time of travel for its security forces moving to the northernmost corner of Indian territory. [The Straits Times 2] [Hindustan Times 2] [Times of India]


22 September 2020

Taiwan-USA relations: China displaying air power amid deepening Washington-Taipei relations

(ef) China sent nearly forty fighter jets and bombers into the Taiwan Strait on Friday and Saturday, with the Chinese Ministry of National Defense commenting on the move that “those who play with fire are bound to get burned”, thereby warning the US and Taiwan to not escalate the tension between China and the US as well as between Taiwan and China any further.

Beijing’s move came during the visit of US Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, Keith Krach on the occasion the memorial service for late President Lee, which continues accelerated efforts of the Trump administration in the recent weeks and months to strengthen ties with Taiwan amid high running tension with China on multiple fronts. Just last month, Taiwan and the USA announced tighter economic relations in the areas of health care, technology, and energy, with Taipei hoping to develop these relations into a free-trade agreement with the US.

Last week, the US Ambassador to the United Nations in a historic first met with the director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, Taiwan’s de-facto embassy, on Wednesday. Never before has a US Ambassador to the UN held a meeting with a top Taiwan official. According to the Ambassador, she aimed to fulfill the wishes of President Trump who seeks to strengthen and deepen bilateral relations with Taiwan. [The Diplomat (€)]

In a latest development, Washington is reportedly pushing for the sale of seven large packages of weapons to Taiwan that would include long-rang missiles able to reach distant Chinese targets. Those missiles could be used with F-16 fighter jets which will increase in numbers in Taiwan as another arms deal including sixty-six F-16’s was approved in 2019. The proposal of seven arms sales at once is unprecedented as Washington usually calibrates arms sales carefully in order to minimize tensions with Beijing. [New York Times (€) 1]  [New York Times (€) 2] [Reuters]

China’s aerial drills in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea have increased in frequency within the last couple of months as China feels noticeably more provoked by Taiwan’s actions perceived as moves to reinstate Taiwan’s independence from China. Especially, the Taiwanese support for Hong Kong after the enactment of the National Security Act on Hong Kong has been a sore spot for Beijing. However, the frequency of flights during the past week is unprecedented and marks a significant escalation in cross-strait tensions. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the entries were legal as “Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, and there is no so-called median line”. [New York Times 3] [Focus Taiwan 1] [CNN]

The Chinese nationalist tabloid Global Times, meanwhile, cited mainland analysts calling the flights are not a warning, but rather “a rehearsal for a Taiwan takeover”. Even though, neither China nor Taiwan has stated that they would fire the first shot, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced that it reserves the right to act in self-defense if the situation escalates further. Hence, Taiwanese forces on the line would be enabled to fire if China showed clear signs of hostility. Furthermore, the MND stated that the Taiwanese military had a sufficient number of precision missiles to defend Taiwan against an attack at the present moment.

The Pentagon harshly condemned the aerial intrusion and stated that Beijing was the reason for ramped up tensions in the strait. [Global Times CN] [Taiwan News] [South China Morning Post] [Focus Taiwan 2]

22 September 2020

China-Vatican relations: Bishop appointment deal to be renewed

(dql) China and the Vatican are set to renew an agreement following Pope Francis’ approval. The agreement was concluded in 2018 whose content has never been disclosed, but whose core provisions are believed to revolve around giving both sides a say in appointing Catholic bishops in China. [Aljazeera] [AiR 4/9/2018]

China is home to around 12 million Catholics who are split between a government-run association, whose clergy are chosen by the Chinese Communist Party, and an unofficial underground church loyal to the Vatican.

In an earlier move, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the Vatican that it “endangers its moral authority” in case of a deal renewal, adding that “[n]o regime suppresses faith on a larger scale than the Chinese Communist Party.” [Church Militant]

22 September 2020

Sweden not to renew space antenna contracts with China

(dql) Sweden Space Corporation (SSC), Sweden’s state-owned space company, announced that it would not renew its contracts with China, which provides China access to strategic space tracking stations in Sweden, Chile and Australia, when the respective contracts expire.

SSC cited changes in geopolitics as reason for its move which comes at a time when tensions between the USA and China grow over the latter’s advancing space capabilities – including Beijing’s increasing sophistication of its Beidou navigation network to rival the US GPS –, while Australia’s diplomatic and trade ties with Beijing have been fracturing. [Reuters]

22 September 2020

China-Canada relations: Ottawa stops trade negotiations

(dql) China-Canada continue to spiral downwards after Canada announced to unilaterally halt negotiations on a free trade agreement with China with Canadian Foreign Minister saying: “I do not see the conditions being present now for these discussions to continue at this time. The China of 2020 is not the China of 2016.”

Following efforts on Canadian side to deepen relations between Ottawa and Beijing after Justin Trudeau took office in 2015, Sino-Canadian ties begun decline after Canadian authorities detained Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in 2018 at the request of the US, which was followed by the arrests of two Canadian nationals on charges of espionage in China. With Canada’s condemnation of the Beijing’s imposed Hong Kong national security law along with a suspension of some bilateral agreements with the former British colony –including an extradition treaty – Sino-Canadian ties further strained. [Economic Times]

22 September 2020

Indonesia protests Chinese coast guard ship entering its exclusive economic zone

(dql) Indonesia last week issued a formal protest to the Chinese embassy in Jakarta about a Chinese coast guard ship entering and patrolling in its exclusive economic zone off the Natuna Islands, stressing its rejection of China’s so-called Nine-Dash Line, which Beijing uses to demarcate its claims in the South China Sea. [Straits Times] [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

China’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, insisted coast guard vessel conducted “normal patrol duties in waters under Chinese jurisdiction.” []

22 September 2020

China and Mongolia agree on deepening ties and Health Silk Road

(dql/ef) Just weeks after China replaced Mongolian language books in Inner Mongolian schools, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa, Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa and Foreign Minister Enkhtaivan Nyamtseren. The protests that ensued after the curriculum change in Inner Mongolian schools drew vast attention in Mongolia and led to protests in front of the Government Palace on the first day of Wang’s visit. However, official meeting summaries did not indicate that the topic of Inner Mongolia came up. Rather, it is stated that Wang visited Mongolia in order to strengthen cooperation in the fight against Covid-19, to extend cooperation on economic and social development, and to ensure long-term healthy and stable development of China-Mongolia ties. [The Diplomat (€)]

Meanwhile, Wang also announced last week that China and Mongolia along with Russia, Kazakstan, and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to jointly build a Health Silk Road, adding that China will provide the participating countries with support in the purchase of anti-pandemic supplies, expertise training, experience sharing and cooperation in drug development, and accelerate the building of communication mechanisms with concerned parties on pandemic information. [The Star]

22 September 2020

China-Russia relations: Caucasus drills 2020 kicked off

(dql) Russia on Monday begun its annual ‘Caucasus’ exercises, with participation of military units from Armenia, Belarus, China, Myanmar and Pakistan, while representatives from Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Sri Lanka take part as observers. The exercises, lasting until 26 September, involve around 80,000 troops and hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers, fighter jets and a flotilla of warships, with a focus on defensive tactics, encirclement and battlefield control and command. [TASS] [rfi]

China’s participation is the latest sign in increasingly close military Sino-Russia ties. India, which originally confirmed its participation, meanwhile, pulled out citing the pandemic and consequent difficulties in the exercise as reason for the withdrawal. [The Statesman] [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

For an account on the current status and future prospects of the Chinese-Russian relations, see the interview in [The Diplomat] with Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, who summarizes the basis of the strategic partnership between Beijing and Moscow in the formula “never against each other; not necessarily always with each other.”

22 September 2020

China-USA economic relations: TikTok deal 

(dql) In the latest development of the Sino-US dispute over a ban of operations of the Chinese video sharing app TikTok in the USA, President Donald Trump this Saturday announced that he had agreed to a deal between TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance and American multinational computer technology corporation Oracle and retail corporation Walmart, expressing his confidence that the future operations of TikTOk “will have nothing to do with China, it’ll be totally secure.”

Following Trump’s approval, the US announced the delay of an order to remove TikTok from Apple and Google’s US app stores from 15 to September 27, providing the firms additional time to finalize the details of the deal.

According to the deal, Oracle will provide the cloud for TikTok and become a minority investor with 12.5% stake, while Walmart has agreed to purchase 7.5% stake. ByteDance will hold the remaining 80%. TikTok’s board will consist exclusively of American citizens, with a security committee led by a person with government security clearances and both the board members and the head of the security committee needing US government approval. [Financial Times] [CNBC]

Analysts agree that the deal falls short of Trump’s demand for an outright sale of TikTok’s US arm. The prospects of estimated 25.000 jobs created and a donation of 5 billion USD by ByteDance for educational purposes are believed to have convinced Trump to agree. [BBC]

In the days ahead of the deal, economic tensions run high Beijing and Washington, with both sides trading mutual threats to sanctions each other country’s companies. On Friday, the Trump administration announced to ban TikTok and WeChat operations in the US, beginning on Sunday. In an immediate response, Beijing decried the move as “bullying” and issued new regulations on Saturday on its proposed (black)list of “unreliable entities,” including penalties such as trade and visa restrictions against foreign firms, organizations and individuals that Beijing believes violate normal market transactions in China, interrupt deals with Chinese firms or take discriminatory measures against Chinese firms. While the regulations went into immediate force, the Chinese authorities did not mention specific companies or persons targeted. [Bloomberg] [The Guardian] [Aljazeera] [Reuters]

In a separate development, American multinational technology company Nvidia’s plan to purchase Arm, a British semiconductor and software design company owned by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group, highlights the ongoing technology dispute between China and the USA. Arm’s blueprints for powering chipsets are a critical component for many Chinese smartphone makers and AI firms, so that Arm’s ownership by an American company makes a scenario with Washington placing restrictions on its business in China a very likely one. [CNN]

The deal worth 40 billion USD, however, requires regulatory approval from the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States and China. A Chinese approval appears more than questionable, with state-run Chinese news outlet being quick to cite Chinese experts voicing that the purchase’s “impact on China’s semiconductor industry is not something we want to see in the future.” [Global Times] [Reuters]

In a blow to Trump’s efforts to ban operations of Chinese messaging, social media and mobile payment app WeChat in the USA, a US federal judge has issued an injunction against his executive order against the company, citing concerns about the order violating First Amendment rights. [New York Times]

22 September 2020

China-USA military relations: US navy to be expanded?

(dql) On the heels of the US Department of Defense’s China military power report, according to which China possesses the world’s largest navy with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2], US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, has announced plans  to expand the US Navy to more than 350 ships from currently 293, with a range of unmanned and autonomous ships, submarines and aircraft. Commenting on the plans, Esper said that the aim was to equip the future fleet with “increased lethality, survivability, capability and capacity to conduct distributed warfare.” [The Guardian]

Meanwhile, the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command strongly warned of China’s “profound advantage” in ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles leaving large US bases in the Pacific  “outgunned, and underprepared, to defend” against China’s massive stockpile of ballistic and cruise missiles, specifying that Guam was a pressing concerning with “billions of dollars in defense capability” on this island and urging to swiftly replace the currently deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense by a Aegis Ashore missile defense system. [Breaking Defense]

The warning comes at a time when Sino-US tension over the South China Sea and Taiwan are high running. A fleet of 19 military aircraft from China flew into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone on Saturday, the second consecutive day of such an incursion, in an apparent signal of opposition to the visit of U.S. Under Secretary of State Keith Krach to Taiwan to attend past Saturday’s memorial service for the late Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. [Taiwan News]

Beijing, furthermore, accused Washington of disguising surveillance aircraft as civilian planes of other countries operating alongside China’s coastlines, referring to an incident early this month in which a US Air Force spy plane disguised as a Malaysian civilian plane entered the South China Sea and patrolled over the disputed Paracel Islands as well as the Taiwan Strait and the Yellow Sea near the Chinese coast. [The EurAsian Times]

For an account on dangers of misperceptions of Chinese military concepts, power and capabilities see David Logan in [War on the Rocks], who refers to three widespread myths about China’s military – China maintaining a vast hidden arsenal of potentially thousands of nuclear warheads; Beijing’s no-first-use policy being a fraud; and China having developed and deployed an array of nuclear war-fighting capabilities – and argues that a believe in these myths risks to exacerbate dangerous Sino-US nuclear dynamics.

22 September 2020

China-USA diplomatic relations: Beijing accuses Pompeo of smear campaign 

(dql) China has condemned comments of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made at his stop in   Suriname during his last week’s South American tour which also took him to Guyana, Brazil and Columbia, accusing him of “smearing and spreading rumors about China” and urging him to “respect facts and truth, abandon arrogance and prejudice,” after Pompeo warned against Chinese investments saying “it all seems great at the front end and then it all comes falling down when the political costs connected to that becomes clear.” [U.S. News]

22 September 2020

China: Successful rocket sea launch

(dql) China launched a Long March 11 rocket from an ocean platform in the Yellow Sea last week, successfully sending nine satellites into orbit. It is China’s second ocean-based launch, following a first Long March 11 sea launch in summer 2019. China is only the third country to perform a sea launch, following the U.S. and Russia. [Space]

22 September 2020

Singapore: Chinese tech firms expanding

(nd) Amidst growing tensions with the US, China’s biggest technology firms, Alibaba and Tencent, are expanding their operations in Singapore, giving it the potential for a Chinese tech hub. ByteDance will be investing billions of dollars in the city state. When investing in foreign countries, the regional headquarter acts on behalf on the parent company, covering the actual Chinese investment. In 2020, South East Asia surpassed the EU as China’s largest regional trading partner. [BBC]


22 September 2020

China reduces crude imports

(dql) China, the world’s largest importer of crude oil, has slowed down its import of crude oil in September, after it imported record volumes in May and June, taking advantage of the low oil prices in April. The slow down is an indication that Chinese refiners in China are having problems to find buyers for refined products locally produced.  [Oil Price]

In a related development, Chinese customs announced amendments to regulations to supervise crude oil imports, allowing cargoes to clear customs prior to completion of quality inspections. The new regulations will be effective from 1 October and aim at increasing efficiency of customs clearance in response to key import oil terminals suffering heavy congestion between May and August when record crude volumes arrived in the country. [Investing]

22 September 2020

China: Xinjiang white paper

(dql) In the wake of mounting international criticism of the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3], where it is accused of forced labor and the detention of at least 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities in internment camps, China’s State Council, the country’s cabinet, has published a white paper on the development of labor rights and workers’ rights in the remote Western province showcasing the government’s measures to promote employment and protect labor rights in this region.

Vocational trainings were among those measures, provided to an average of nearly 1.3 million urban and rural workers every year from 2014 to 2019 as part of a concerted campaign to elevate workers’ education and skills, with around one third of them coming from Southern Xinjiang. Rejecting claims of forced labor. The report accuses “certain international forces” of “ideological bias and prejudiced against China” and of “applying double standards in Xinjiang, criticizing ‘breaches of human rights’ while ignoring the tremendous efforts Xinjiang has made to protect human rights.” [Xinhua]

In a move, echoing the white paper’s rejection of international criticism of its Xinjiang policy and defying US sanctions, the Chinese Communist Party has promoted Xinjiang’s police chief Wang Mingshan to be a member of the party’s standing committee in Xinjiang. Wang was among the officials who were sanctioned by the USA in July over allegations of being implicated in forced labor in the region. His promotion comes shortly after the Trump administration announced that it would block imports of goods from five companies based in Xinjiang over concerns about forced labor. [South China Morning Post 1] [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2] [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

For critical views on the white paper’s numbers arguing that the presented data indicate forced labor rather than disperse the forced labor claims see [South China Morning Post 2].

22 September 2020

China/Hong Kong: Freedom House award goes to protest movement

(dql) Along with two other groups from Sudan, the Hong Kong protest movement has been given the US government-funded democracy watchdog Freedom House’s 2020 Freedom Award. The organization cited as reason for the awarding the inspiration to world as “[t]wo million have turned out to stand together in defense of the rights and freedoms they are supposed to enjoy under Hong Kong law.” [Freedom House]

Freedom House has been presenting its annual Freedom Award since 1943. Recent Chinese regime-critical awardees include Uyghur activist Ilham Tohti (2019) and Chinese human rights activist Chen Guancheng (2013).

Speaking at the awarding ceremony, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activist Nathan Law – in self-exile since the promulgation of the Hong Kong National Security Law – warned that “using engagement and appeasement strategies to engage with China” to bring about a democratization of the country is wishful thinking, with China turning increasingly “authoritarian […] using its sharp and soft power to penetrate the protection of the democracies, and to infiltrate into these countries to discredit and dismantle democracies.” [Hong Kong Free Press]

Adding to concerns over the impact of the national security on judicial independence in Hong Kong, an Australian veteran Judge resigned from the Court of Final Appeal, the city’s top court, which he has served as a non-permanent judge since 2013, citing unspecific reasons linked to the security legislation. The resignation comes two years prior to the official ending of his terms. [Bloomberg]

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary, the city’s no. 2, defended before the international community the national security law at the UN Human Rights Council arguing that the legislation was an effective tool to safeguard law and order and the residents’ freedoms against violent anti-government protests. [South China Morning Post]

22 September 2020

Asian financial leaders agree to make ‘all policy efforts’ to fight pandemic

(jn) Financial leaders from China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia vowed on Friday to redouble their efforts to help the region recover economically from the coronavirus and to defend a multilateral system of trade and investment. In a joint statement they vowed to “remain vigilant to the continued downside risks [and to take] steps to reduce vulnerabilities to these risks and […] to continue to use all available policy tools to support the sustained recovery.” They also said they remain committed “to uphold an open and rule-based multilateral trade and investment system, and strengthen regional integration and cooperation.”

The statement followed the annual meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors from China, Japan, South Korea and the 10-member ASEAN. The meetings were held via teleconference on the sidelines of the annual gathering of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). [Reuters]

22 September 2020

Asia: Rise in discrimination due to Covid-19 

(nd) A recent survey conducted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) highlights that the spread of Covid-19 gave rise to discrimination towards vulnerable communities in Asia. The survey asked 5,000 people in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Pakistan, with half of the asked people blaming Chinese people, immigrants and foreigners for the spread of the virus. Also, “illegal foreigners” were blamed, linking it to the arrests of undocumented migrants and refugees made by Malaysian authorities. United Nations warned this policy might deter vulnerable groups from seeking treatment.

Higher education obtained by the interviewees made it only slightly less likely for them to hold the above-mentioned groups responsible in all of the surveyed countries. [Reuters]

15 September 2020

Philippines: “Fast lane” for Chinese workers 

(nd) The governments in Manila and Beijing agreed to a “fast lane” for Chinese personnel working in projects under the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program.

At the moment, there are 70 projects fully or partly financed by China through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), mainly infrastructural and transportation projects, involving roads and bridges, airports, seaports, railways, communication and flood control. [Manila Times]


15 September 2020

Indonesia: Chinese Vessel driven off EEZ 

(nd) The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency reported to have driven off a Chinese coast guard vessel from Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in the North Natuna Sea. The agency claims that the ship insisted it had the right to patrol the so-called nine-dash line. The line is meant to denote Chinese territorial claims, in particular regarding fishing grounds, in the South China Sea. It is, however, disputed by most countries in the region, including Indonesia, and a frequent source of tension between China and her Southern neighbors. 

In 2016, an international tribunal dismissed the nine-dash line as legally baseless. In 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rejected the nine-dash line and granted Indonesia sovereign rights to the natural resources in its EEZ. Based on the convention, an arbitral tribunal ruled in 2016 China had no historic rights to these waters.[Jakarta Post]


15 September 2020

Vietnam: U.S., Mekong ministers meet amid latest rivalry with China 

(jn) U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and foreign ministers from five Southeast Asian countries along the Mekong River held the first Mekong-U.S.-Partnership Ministerial Meeting on Friday, discussing ways to deepen their partnership amid the latest frictions with China over the 4,350-kilometer river. Mr. Biegun announced $153 million in US funds for the region, among other things $55 million for the purpose of combating transboundary crime and $1.8 million to support data sharing on Mekong River water resources.

During the group’s inaugural meeting, Mr. Biegun claimed that the current drought suffered in the Mekong downstream area during the past two years has been caused by China that has built 11 dams in the upstream area. A report published in April by the U.S.-based Eyes on Earth shows that China’s upstream dams have been holding back 47 billion cubic meters of water, likely being the cause for severely disrupting a river that feeds more than 60 million people. [Kyodo News] [Nikkei Asian Review]

15 September 2020

India, China: External Affairs Minister Jaishankar meets Chinese counterpart

(lm) Indian and Chinese troops were facing off on Wednesday, barely a few hundred meters apart in at least four locations south of the Pangong Tso lake. Both countries had previously accused each other’s soldiers of firing warning shots on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), violating a 1996 no-fire agreement and further escalating military tensions in the Himalayan border region. The same day, Indian and Chinese military representatives met to amicably de-escalate the tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh but the talks were “inconclusive”. [South Asia Monitor] [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2] [The Straits Times 1]

Against this backdrop, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit on Thursday. Upon noting that “the current situation in the border area is not in the interests of both sides,” India and China pledged to de-escalate tensions along their disputed Himalayan border. The meeting was followed by a luncheon meeting of the foreign ministers of the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping. [South China Morning Post]

On Sunday, Beijing released five Indian nationals it detained earlier this month in a region bordering Tibet, with China’s state-backed Global Times saying that the five were Indian intelligence agents dressed as hunters, disputing claims that they had been kidnapped. On June 5, the Indian Army used a military hotline designed to help defuse border tensions to inquire about allegations that five men had been abducted by the People’s Liberation Army from the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is also claimed by China (South Tibet) [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]. [The Straits Times 2]

15 September 2020

Pakistani Taliban reunification might pose threat to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

(lm) While peace negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul are still underway [see e.g. The Straits TimesThe Diplomat], Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has announced its reunification with three formerly estranged factions – a move that analysts say could pose a security risk to projects linked to the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in northwestern Pakistan. [Nikkei Asian Review 1] [News Live TV]

Founded in 2007 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the TTP is a designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) that draws its ideological views from al-Qaida. Until they splintered in 2014 over internal rifts within the TTP leadership, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, the Hizb ul-Ahrar and Hakeemullah Mehsud group were the three major factions in the TTP. Last month, it was announced the militant outfits would reunite, and also being joined by a faction of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned terror group operating in the western province of Balochistan. [The Straits Times]

The group’s initial footprints were in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and in semi-autonomous tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s army has conducted a series of operations since 2014, forcing the group to take sanctuary over the border in Afghanistan. Islamabad claims the terrorist network has now set up command and control structures in both Kunar and Nangarhar provinces in eastern Afghanistan to attack Pakistani security forces. Experts say it is possible the TTP will use its sustained militant presence along the border to create a buffer zone between Afghanistan and Pakistan to, once again, declare a state of the Pakistani Taliban, which hosts Islamist foreign fighters. [Voice of America] [The Diplomat]

Pakistan’s military on Sunday claimed to have killed a key militant commander along with his three accomplices near the Afghanistan border, describing it a major breakthrough in ongoing security operations against suspected terrorists. [Anadolu Agency]

The TTP’s reunification has put China in a tight spot, given the fact that they were pressing Pakistan to crack down on ethnic separatist groups in Balochistan and Sindh due to projects linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a part of the BRI. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s remote areas, Chinese companies are involved in several development projects, mainly in the field of hydro-electricity generation and infrastructure, such as the Karakoram Highway Phase II. To advance Beijing’s interest in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt, Chinese officials have reportedly stepped up contacts with Afghan Taliban representatives, offering to build a road networks in Taliban-controlled territories as well as energy projects, provided the militants can ensure peace in Afghanistan after the US military withdrawal. [Financial Times] [Nikkei Asia Review 2]

15 September 2020

Taiwan-USA: Upcoming visit of US Undersecretary angers China 

(ef) A visit of the US Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, to visit to Taiwan for economic talks scheduled for later this week, has prompted fierce opposition by China, warning that the planned meeting would cause “serious damage” to Sino-US relations as well as to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and calling on Washington to halt official exchanges with Taipei. [Associated Press]

Signaling improving and strengthening US-Taiwan relations, the visit will come shortly after the one by US Health Secretary Alex Azar last month, marking so far the highest-level U.S. Cabinet official to visit Taiwan since the USA ended formal ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China in 1979. [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]

In a related development, Taiwan’s 2021 Defense budget proposal submitted to the parliament reveals that visits of Taiwan defense officials to the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office are scheduled for next year, with the aim to discuss closer military and strategic cooperation to develop innovative ways to counter emerging threats. Originally, the visit was scheduled for 2020, but cancelled due to the pandemic. [Focus Taiwan]

15 September 2020

Cross-strait relations: China’s large-scale exercises in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone

(ef) Last week, China conducted large-scale joint air and naval exercises in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, as two dozen Chinese military aircraft and naval ships operated in an area between Pratas and Taiwan’s south-western coast, prompting Taiwan to denounce the move as a “severe provocation,” and to warn that China “should not overlook the Taiwanese people’s will to preserve their freedom and democracy.”  

The move has been called the most serious threat to Taiwan’s security since the 1996 crisis in the wake of a series of missile tests conducted by China in the waters surrounding Taiwan and believed to be an attempt to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate in ahead of the 1996 presidential election. 

Analysts view the exercises as an attempt to broaden the Chinese operating space, thus squeezing the Taiwanese buffer zone. Such air defense buffer zone is unilaterally declared and their standing under international law is unclear. Entry into such zones is not illegal under international law, however it is politically condemned.

The operation confirms concerns that the People’s Liberation Army would increase military pressure, once the pandemic was under control in China. Unlike other recent Chinese provocations, this one was not a response to any US military activity, therefore potentially indicating a more serious threat as China becomes more aggressive. [Financial Times] [The Diplomat ($)] [Focus Taiwan 1]

In addition to the exercises, a reconnaissance vessel of the People’s Liberation Army was spotted off the Taiwanese east coast for the second day in a row. The occurrence takes place just as Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology is testing missiles. [Focus Taiwan 2]

15 September 2020

China bans import of pork from Germany

(dql) Following Germany’s first case of African swine fever, China has banned pork imports from Germany, third-largest exporter of pork to China. The ban is likely to considerably hit Germany’s pork industry, with exports to China worth amounting to around 1.2 billion USD annually. 

In response to the ban, the German government confirmed that it is in talks with China over a ban only on imports of pork coming from the region in which an ASF case was found, replacing the blanket national import ban. [Deutsche Welle]

15 September 2020

China-Germany relations: German government adopts policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region

(lm) On Wednesday, Germany’s Federal Foreign Office unveiled a major strategic shift by announcing an Indo-Pacific strategy that suggests a reassessment of Berlin’s traditionally Beijing-friendly foreign policy. Germany is the second European nation to use the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a geographical and strategic construct in foreign and security policy discourse, following France which adopted its Indo-Pacific strategy in May 2019. The new guidelines foreground maritime security cooperation, human rights, and the diversification of the country’s economic partnerships in the region in order for it and its regional partners to “avoid unilateral dependencies.” [Federal Foreign Office] [full document (in German) Federal Foreign Office].

Context and timing of the announcement are noteworthy. On July 1, Germany assumed the EU Council’s six-monthly rotating presidency, putting it in a position to shape the bloc’s approach to the Indo-Pacific throughout the remainder of its term. In light of Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas call for a unified European approach to China [see European Council on Foreign Relations], the EU is expected to come out with its Indo-Pacific vision soon [see e.g. The Economic Times]. On September 14, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is currently chairing the European Union Council, together with European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joseph Borrell, met with China’s President Xi Jinping for a summit through video link. [Council of the European Union]

The announcement further comes in the wake of a five-nation European tour by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi [see e.g. South China Morning Post 1]. His colleague Yang Jiechi, the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission, was also visiting Spain and Greece last week [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1] [South China Morning Post 2].

As the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore afresh the importance of diversification away from trade and supply chain dependence, India, Japan, and Australia are all reconsidering their dependence on China in strategic sectors, in many ways mirroring the debate in Europe. In August, the three nations agreed to move towards a “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative”, after Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry had first broached the idea with the Indian government. [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

While some observers have argued that the new policy paper “unmistakably signals Europe’s growing reassessment of its approach to China” [see The Diplomat or Nikkei Asian Review] or even a potential convergence of German and US foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific [see Global Times], in his commentary, Andreas Fulda notes that Berlin’s Indo-Pacific strategy offers no critical self-reflection about existing shortcomings of Berlin’s previous China engagement. Acknowledging that diction and focus of Germany’s Indo-Pacific strategy varies significantly from the US approach, he finds the new guidelines lacking a tentative clue as to how Germany aims to address existing power imbalances in the region. [RUSI]

15 September 2020

China-Germany relations: German government adopts policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region

(lm) On Wednesday, Germany’s Federal Foreign Office unveiled a major strategic shift by announcing an Indo-Pacific strategy that suggests a reassessment of Berlin’s traditionally Beijing-friendly foreign policy. Germany is the second European nation to use the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a geographical and strategic construct in foreign and security policy discourse, following France which adopted its Indo-Pacific strategy in May 2019. The new guidelines foreground maritime security cooperation, human rights, and the diversification of the country’s economic partnerships in the region in order for it and its regional partners to “avoid unilateral dependencies.” [Federal Foreign Office] [full document (in German) Federal Foreign Office].

Context and timing of the announcement are noteworthy. On July 1, Germany assumed the EU Council’s six-monthly rotating presidency, putting it in a position to shape the bloc’s approach to the Indo-Pacific throughout the remainder of its term. In light of Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas call for a unified European approach to China [see European Council on Foreign Relations], the EU is expected to come out with its Indo-Pacific vision soon [see e.g. The Economic Times]. On September 14, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is currently chairing the European Union Council, together with European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joseph Borrell, met with China’s President Xi Jinping for a summit through video link. [Council of the European Union]

The announcement further comes in the wake of a five-nation European tour by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi [see e.g. South China Morning Post 1]. His colleague Yang Jiechi, the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission, was also visiting Spain and Greece last week [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1] [South China Morning Post 2].

As the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore afresh the importance of diversification away from trade and supply chain dependence, India, Japan,