Asia in Review Archive 2021 (January- April)

China (People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

27 April 2021

Pakistan: Bombing narrowly misses Chinese ambassador, illustrates security threat

(lm) At least five people have been killed and a dozen wounded, when a powerful explosion apparently from a suicide bomb struck the parking lot of a hotel hosting the Chinese ambassador in the southwestern city of Quetta on April 22. Pakistan’s leading Taliban group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) later claimed responsibility for the attack. [New York Times] [The Straits Times]

The Chinese envoy and his delegation had been attending a meeting with senior Pakistani army officials and were due to return when the blast occurred, and it was unclear whether the Chinese visitors had been the targets of the attack. But analysts say the bombings nonetheless shine a light on security risks associated with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a key part of Beijing’s international infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). [South China Morning Post]

Quetta is the capital of the restive Balochistan province, which is viewed by Pakistani officials as an arena for proxy wars between regional and international powers. Islamabad frequently accuses India of attempting to stir nationalist and sectarian tensions in Balochistan through covert operations, an allegation New Delhi denies [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3].

In the past, Baloch separatist have claimed responsibility for attacks on Chinese targets. The separatist movement is secular and accuses Pakistan and China of exploiting local natural resources. Previous targets of Baloch separatist attacks included a hotel in the Chinese-built port of Gwadar, the Chinese consulate in the southern city of Karachi, and the partly Chinese-owned stock exchange in Karachi [see AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5]. [The Wall Street Journal]

27 April 2021

Philippines to tolerate Chinese fishing, but displays disapproval

(lp) President Rodrigo Duterte said he would tolerate ‘non-commercial’ fishing by China in Philippine territory of the South China Sea, as long as Filipinos are not prevented from fishing themselves. Filipinos have reported huge losses in their fish catch due to overfishing by Chinese vessels. The employment and food security of Filipinos are threatened not only by overfishing, but the cumulative damages to the maritime ecosystems caused by Chinese activities in the South China Sea. Besides local governmental and civil society groups, the US has expressed concerns over Chinese illegal fishing and ecosystem destruction in the area. The European Union (EU) also called for the crafting of a legally binding Code of Conduct to reduce tensions in the South China Sea. In turn, the Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) instructed their foreign ministers to hold meetings with China and the US to improve multilateral ties. Moreover, the EU released a new policy aimed at increasing its influence in the Indo-Pacific through areas from security to health. [Manila Bulletin 1] [Inquirer 1] [Voice of America] [Manila Bulletin 2]

Nonetheless, Duterte has not signed any fishing treaty in the South China Sea with China. Rather, the Philippines showcased its disapproval of Chinese incursion by filing two additional diplomatic protests against China. Similarly, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) deployed more ships and planes to increase patrols in the area. Moreover, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is considering building structures in the South China Sea to assert the country’s sovereignty. The Philippines has not been building these structures per Articles 60, 80, 246 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. But since China already violated this agreement, the AFP awaits the consideration of the NTF-WPS on this matter. [CNN] [Reuters] [Rappler] [Inquirer 2]

27 April 2021

Laos: Regional countries to fight for influence over China

(nd) Japan, Thailand and Vietnam have moved this year to offer new help or reaffirm the benefits of previous aid to Laos. In an effort to reinforce their respective bilateral ties, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam have reached to Laos to give aid. Japan aims to advance a strategic partnership, has offered about $1.8 million to open Covid-19 vaccine storage facilities, and announced to support upgrades to international airports. Thailand also vowed to support Laos with the pandemic and has helped in education, agriculture and health. Vietnam has developed a 2021-2030 cooperation strategy and a five-year cooperation agreement.

Development aid in total has reached up to 15% of Lao GDP, helping the economy to grow at an annual average of 5.8% during the past five years. Chinese payments to Laos have reached $11 billion per year, with financing and investment making the sum even higher. Therefore, countries in the region hope to lessen China’s influence, mostly due to its domination of the Mekong River and its flow. To mitigate this, the US last year launched the aid plan Mekong-U.S. Partnership. Japan and Vietnam have additional quarrels with China over the South China Sea. While those countries aim at pushing back China’s influence on Laos, the latter is mostly dependent on China, to which it owed $ 250 million for the construction of a 400-kilometer, $5.9 billion China-invested railway, according to the International Monetary Fund. [Voice of America]


27 April 2021

China’s Bank may fund $6.8 billion railway project in Pakistan

(lm) Against the larger backdrop of subtle signs of unease between China and Pakistan over the future direction and subsequent funding of projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing has sent a revised loan proposal related to a $6 billion loan to upgrade railway infrastructure in Pakistan to one of its institutional banks for approval. [Profit by Pakistan Today]

Last August, Pakistan`s top economic body had approved Mainline-1 (ML-1), a $6.8 billion project to upgrade railway infrastructure in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Work on the first phase of the project was scheduled to commence in January and be completed in 2024.

However, officials from both sides took months to finalize the details of the project, mainly due to Beijing trying to avoid any commitment for funding. Islamabad this February eventually softened its position on both interest rate and loan currency, agreeing to borrow $6 billion in both Chinese and US currencies [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. The remaining $800 million will be provided by the government of Pakistan as equity.

Although it is the largest among the lot, ML-1 is not the only project under the CPEC facing significant delays. According to official numbers, so far, 17 projects worth $13 billion have been completed, while another 21 projects having an estimated cost of $12 billion are under implementation [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2].


27 April 2021

South Korea: Speculations around vaccine swap deal with US 

(nm) South Korea’s Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong last week revealed that Seoul had seriously discussed vaccine cooperation with the United States, including a “vaccine swap deal.” But as Washington sees little potential for sharing its stock yet, several media outlets speculated that the lack of support was related to Korea’s negative stance about joining the US-led Quad alliance. South Korea’s foreign ministry has since denied the reports.

South Korea is currently facing difficulties in securing enough vaccine doses. Meanwhile, a US State Department spokesperson explained last week that it had discussed vaccine arrangements with Canada, Mexico, and the Quad – the regional alliance involving Japan, India, and Australia – leading to the speculations. This week, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense dismissed claims that Korea and China had discussed the Quad alliance with “an unequivocal no.” The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post had reported earlier that Chinese officials had tried to find out from their South Korean counterparts if Seoul had any intention of joining the alliance. [Korea Herald 1] [Korea Herald 2] [Korea Times 1]

The speculations have highlighted the dilemma that South Korea faces, as China – the country’s largest trading partner – seems increasingly concerned over Seoul possibly joining the alliance that is seen by China as an “anti-China coalition.” There have been media reports in the past weeks claiming Washington had “strongly requested” South Korea to participate, but the Korean government has steadily denied such reports. The US is also seeking to build a stronger trilateral alliance with Japan and South Korea, which some see as a possible mini-Nato in Northeast Asia, challenging China’s influence in the region. [South China Morning Post] [Korea Times 2]

27 April 2021

Japan to host first joint military exercise with the US and France

(dql) Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi announced that Japan will hold a joint military drill with United States and French troops in the country’s southwest from May 11 to 17, in a first large-scale exercise in Japan involving ground troops from all three countries. [France 24]

The announcement comes as Tokyo seeks to deepen defense cooperation beyond its key US ally to counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and a week after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to the White House during which he and US President Biden agreed to work together to “take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo Pacific.” Both leaders also agreed to “oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” as well as “China’s unlawful maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea.” [AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3]

Meanwhile, the British ambassador to Japan, announced that on its maiden deployment the UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will lead a flotilla of Royal Navy ships through Asian waters on port visits to Japan and South Korea. The carrier strike group will include the Queen Elizabeth and 18 F-35B stealth fighters, two destroyers, two frigates and two support ships. It will be joined US vessels as well as a Dutch frigate and conduct exercises with forces from Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, the UAE, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Israel, India, Oman and South Korea. [Aljazeera]

27 April 2021

Japan-China relations: Tokyo accuses Beijing of being behind cyberattack

(dql) Tokyo police are investigating cyberattacks on about 200 Japanese companies and research organisations, including the country’s space agency, by a hacking group believed to be linked to the Chinese military. [Channel News Asia]

The accusation comes short after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and US President Joe Biden at their meeting in the White House earlier this month agreed on “the importance of strengthening bilateral cybersecurity and information security,” one among many areas of cooperation to jointly respond to challenges China is posing to their countries. [White House, USA]

27 April 2021

Japan: China threat looms large in latest foreign policy report

(dql) The Japanese Foreign Ministry this Tuesday released its latest Diplomatic Bluebook, the annual report on Japan’s foreign policy and international diplomacy. While calling ties with Chinas “one of the most important bilateral relations,” the report concludes that China’s transparency-lacking expansion of military capabilities as well as its growing unilateral actions to alter the status quo in Asian waters is posing “strong concerns” in the region and to the international community. It, furthermore, asserts that Beijing’s military build-up and activities in both, the East China Sea and South China Sea “have become a serious security concern,” and criticizes China’s Coast Guard Law, claiming that Chinese police vessels around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands entered “Japanese territorial waters” in violation of international law. It also expressed concerns over human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region and the crackdown on Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the Japan-US alliance is said to continue “to serve as the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomatic and security policies,” with its significance growing more than ever amid growing uncertainties in the region’s security environment. [Mainichi]

China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to hit back, accusing Tokyo of smearing Beijing’s reputation with “malicious attacks,” as well as of interfering into China’s internal affairs, and urged Tokyo “to redress its mistakes.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]


27 April 2021

Chinese-Russian moon base project opened to international partners for participation

(dql) Russia and China have formally invited countries and international organizations to join the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, being developed by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and Russia’s Roscosmos.

Making the announcement at a sideline event of last week’s 58th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), both partners said that the project would be open to participation at all stages and levels, including planning, design, research, development, implementation and operations.

The announcement comes after Russia and China signed a memorandum of understanding on the ILRS in March, and amid expectations that Russia will withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) partnership with the US and the rest of the ISS partners in 2025, indicating Russia’s leaving the US behind and moving towards China in space cooperation. [Space News] [ZME Science]

27 April 2021

Cross-strait relations: Taiwan kicks off week-long 24/7 simulation of Chinese invasion 

(dql) Taiwan’s military has begun the computerized component of this year’s Han Kuang military exercises last Friday to test Taiwan’s defense strategies and tactics against a possible military attack by China.

The Han Kuang exercises are Taiwan’s largest annual war games and involve all branches of its armed forces, conducted in two stages: the tabletop drills and live-fire drills. The week-long simulation of a full-scale PLA invasion, done using the Joint Theater Level Simulation system, is the longest in the history of Han Kuang exercises since they were held for the first time in 1984.

The drills come amid military intimidation from China, with PLA planes flying into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone for 18 days within the first 23 days in April and the largest show of force recorded on April 12, involving 25 war planes. [Taipei Times]


27 April 2021

China-Germany relations: Foreign ministers reject decoupling

(dql) German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi stressed in a video conference the need for Brussels to engage rather than isolate Beijing, amid rising concerns on the Chinese side over the EU moving closer to the US. [South China Morning Post]

In a statement ahead of the virtual meeting, Maas reiterated the EU’s designation of China as “partner, competitor and systemic rival at the same time.” Calling for “strong, sustainable communication channels with Beijing,” he also asserted that “[d]e-coupling is the wrong way to go.” [Reuters]

The talk between Maas and Wang comes at the heels of talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron with Chinese President Xi Jinping on climate cooperation earlier this month, widely seen as efforts of the European leaders to de-escalate tensions in EU-China relations over sanctions imposed by Brussels on Chinese officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. [AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3]

27 April 2021

China endangers peace in the South China Sea, EU says

(dql) The European Union (EU) has accused China of endangering peace and stability in the South China Sea, citing “the recent presence of large Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef,” claimed by China, Philippines, and Vietnam. Criticizing “unilateral actions that could undermine regional stability and international rules-based order,” Brussels urged all parties to abide by the ruling in the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration which rejected most of China’s claim to sovereignty in the sea. [EEAS] [Reuters]

The statement comes shortly after the Foreign Ministers of the 27 EU member states last week adopted the adopted the “EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” which, among others, called for “free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law, in particular UNCLOS, in the interest of all.” [AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3]

27 April 2021

China-UK relations: British parliament declare Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs genocide

(dql) Following similarly parliamentary moves in the US, Canada, and the Netherlands, British lawmakers backed a motion stating Uighurs in Xinjiang were suffering crimes against humanity and genocide, calling on government to use international law to bring it to an end. 

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government again shied away from declaring genocide over what it says are “industrial-scale” human rights abuses against the mainly Muslim Uighur community in Xinjiang. So far, the British government has imposed sanctions on some Chinese officials and introduced rules to try to prevent goods linked to the region entering the supply chain. [Reuters]

US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, will reportedly  call on allies in the Group of Seven (G7) to increase pressure on China over the use of forced labor in Xinjiang, when he will participate in G7 meeting in Britain in June where he is expected to reaffirm the strategic rivalry between democracies and more authoritarian states, particularly China. [Aljazeera]

27 April 2021

China-UK relations: British intelligence chief warns of Chinese domination of global operating system

(dql) Jeremy Fleming, Director of the Government Communications Headquarters, the British intelligence and security organization, warned that China might to able to effectively grab control of the world’s global operating system, as “[s]ignificant technology leadership is moving East.” He urged the West to take action to prevent China from dominating key technologies, including artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics. Illustrating the difference between an immediate threat of Russia and the long-term technology dominance of China, Fleming compared: “Russia is affecting the weather, whilst China is shaping the climate.” [Reuters]

27 April 2021

China-US relations: US International Religious Freedom Commission calls for boycott of Beijing Olympic games if Xinjiang human rights situation does not change

(dql) The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its annual report recommended to the US government to label China as a “country of particular concern,” under the International Religious Freedom Act, for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” and to uphold financial and visa sanctions against Chinese government agencies and officials “responsible for severe violations of religious freedom.”

Joining similar demands of human rights groups across the world pressing governments to boycott the Beijing Olympic Winter Games 2022, the Commission also urged the Biden administration to issue a statement “that US government officials will not attend the games if the Chinese government’s crackdown on religious freedom continues.” [US Commission on International Religious Freedom] [Channel News Asia] [CNBC]

The USCIRF is a US federal government commission established by the 1998 the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Its Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Commission’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.

27 April 2021

China-US relations: US Senate sharpens bill to fight Chinese threats

(dql) Last week the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee overwhelmingly backed a landmark bill, “Strategic Competition Act of 2021,” that allocates hundreds of millions of USD for a set of new initiatives aimed at “mobiliz[ing] all US strategic, economic, and diplomatic tools for an Indo-Pacific strategy” to confront challenges China poses.

First introduced earlier this month, the original version of the bill, among others, included 655 million USD in funding for foreign militaries in the Indo-Pacific region as well as 450 million USD for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative to ensure the free operation of forces of the US and its partners in the region and address threats that arise; furthermore, 75 million USD for an ‘‘Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network’’ in the Indo-Pacific as a counterweight to China’s Belt and Road Initiative; 100 million USD for a ‘‘Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership,” to promote secure telecommunications and digital infrastructure in developing markets and promote U.S. exports; and 300 million USD for the ‘‘Countering Chinese Influence Fund,” to push back against the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to promote its authoritarian model abroad.

Upon receipt, the committee added numerous initiatives to the bill, including increased aid to Africa and Latin America, more funding for technology industries and robustly strengthening the US development bank to rival the China Development Bank which is heavily involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. [Axios][South China Morning Post 1] [Reuters]

Quoting Steve Bannon, former US President Donald Trump advisor and China hawk, the Committee’s Chairman Jim Risch highlighted China as target of the bill, saying that the “issues facing us today in foreign policy, and perhaps for the entire 21st century, is going to be China, China and China. [South China Morning Post 2]

27 April 2021

China: New anti-espionage regulation

(dql) China’s Ministry of State Security, the country’s the civilian intelligence, security and secret police agency, has issued new anti-espionage regulations, the first counter-espionage working regulations at a national level and across different sectors, including government departments, social groups and companies. They allow the agency to draw up lists of companies and organizations suspected of foreign infiltration and to require them to adopt security measures to prevent foreign infiltration. The measures include, among others, reporting their activities related to national security, providing counter-espionage education to personnel before they depart abroad, and interviewing them after their return to China. Employees, meanwhile are required to sign non-disclosure commitments prior to taking up their posts. [South China Morning Post]

The regulations come shortly after the Sixth National Educational Day at which the Chinese Communist Party and government agencies earlier this month held educational events to teach how to guard against foreign spying. [CNN]

They also come at a time when cohesion among the countries of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – seem to be challenged in the face of a steady drifting of New Zealand away from the hardening stance towards China taken by other four countries. Earlier this month, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta asserted that her country would refuse to support efforts by its allies to expand the role of Five Eyes in responding to China. In March New Zealand its allies in joint declaration condemning China’s national security legislation on Hong Kong. [Sydney Morning Herald] [NZ Herald] [AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3]

27 April 2021

China’s military muscle flexing: New warships and radar drones

(dql) China has unveiled three new warships, an amphibious helicopter carrier, a nuclear sub and a guided-missile cruiser – in a public display of strength as President Xi Jinping watched over a commissioning ceremony that took place in a military port in the southern city of Sanya last Friday. [The Times]

Furthermore, China has unveiled new advanced radars said to be capable of detecting stealth aircraft, including drones, as well as low-flying cruise missiles. Among the “star products”, displayed at last week’s World Radar Expo in Nanjing exhibition, was the country’s first portable and multipurpose radar, which could be carried by a single soldier. [Aljazeera]

27 April 2021

China reasserts leadership aspirations in global governance at Boao Forum for Asia

(dql) Sending a muscular signal of China’s claims to leadership in global governance to the US, Chinese President Xi Jinping in his keynote speech at last week’s virtually arranged Boao Forum for Asia remarked that “[global governance should reflect the evolving political and economic landscape in the world,” with China “call[ing] all countries in Asia and beyond to answer the call of our times, defeat the pandemic through solidarity, strengthen global governance, and keep pursuing a community with a shared future for mankind.” 

He also warned that the rules of global governance must not be “set by one or a few countries,” and “imposed on others,” adding that “[i]n state-to-state relations, … [b]ossing others around or meddling in others’ internal affairs would not get one any support.” [Xinhua]

Kicked off in 2001, with China as driving force behind, the Boao Forum for Asia has evolved into big platform that brings together political, business and academic elites from Asia and beyond. Often dubbed the ‘Davos of the East’, the Boao Forum is important for China as it regards it as a counterweight to the American- and European-dominated Davos of the World Economic Forum. 

This year’s forum was attended by around 2600 participants from more than 60 countries and regions. The heads of the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations addressed it by video link. [The Conversation] [ECNS]

27 April 2021

China, Japan, South Korea reaffirm commitment Biden-hosted climate summit

(dql) At last week’s virtual Leaders’ Climate Summit, hosted by US President Joe Biden and attended by 40 head of states and governments, China, Japan, and South Korea countries reaffirmed their commitment to fighting climate change.

Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s climate-related goals of peaking carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and becoming carbon neutral before 2060. He also announced that coal-fired power generation projects will be strictly controlled, while the increase in coal consumption will be strictly limited over the 14th Five-Year Plan period until 2025 before being phased down in the 15th Five-Year Plan period. [Xinhua]

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced new, more ambitious targets for Japan of reducing carbon emissions, now set at 46% from levels of 2013, a rise of more than 70% compared with the government’s previous goal of 26%. [Nikkei Asia]

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, vowed that South Korea will cease state-backed financing of coal-fired power plants overseas and announced plans to strengthen the country’s emissions reduction commitment under the Paris agreement by raising its current target to reduce emissions by 24.4% by 2030 from 2017 levels. [Bloomberg]

For a critical assessment of a rebound in global coal demand in 2021, with a rapid increase in coal-fired power generation in Asia accounting for 80% of the rebound, see the recently released Global Energy Review 2021 of the [International Energy Agency]. 

Hosting the summit, US President Biden underscored his administration’s efforts to reclaim US leadership in global climate governance following former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from international climate commitments.

Biden warned in his summit opening speech that climate action was “a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” but asserted that it was at the same time “an opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs around the world in innovative sectors – jobs that bring greater quality of life, greater dignity, to the people who are performing those jobs in every nation.”

Confronted in the US with a resilient opposition of the Republican Party to his climate-related policies, this remark is directed not only towards the leaders attending the summit and the international community, but also and foremost towards his domestic critics.

As for the US emission reduction commitment, Biden said that the US seeks to have greenhouse gases dropped by 50% by the end of the decade from 2005 levels, almost nearly doubling the reductions that the Obama administration had committed to in the Paris climate accord. [White House] [The Hill]

27 April 2021

China: Press and media freedom under pressure in Hong Kong

(dql) Revealing the increasingly precarious situation of media freedom in Hong Kong since the imposition of the National Security Law last summer, a Hong Kong lawmaker of the pro-Beijing camp has accused the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions of fomenting terrorism by screening a documentary about clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in November 2019, one of the most turbulent chapters of the 2019 Hong Kong protests. He called on the police to take swift action under the security law. [Hong Kong Free Press]

The documentary, titled “Inside the Red Brick Wall”, won awards at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards and will be the opening film at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival which will kick off this week. [Coconut] [Variety 1] [Variety 2]

Last month, following the Oscar nomination of another short documentary on the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, Beijing had reportedly told mainland media outlets to either boycott or downplay this weekend’s Oscars film awards ceremony, with the Hong Kong television network TVB, which had broadcasted the Academy Awards for more than 50 years, announcing to boycott this year’s Oscars. [Deutsche Welle]

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government has appointed two former officials as advisor and “senior manager for special support” to Patrick Li Pak-chuen, the recently appointed Director of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the city’s public broadcaster. The appointments are seen as the latest in a string of measures in response to complaints from the pro-establishment camp over the programs deemed pro-protest movement leaning. 

Since Li assumed his post last month, he has repeatedly shut current affairs shows from the schedule at the last minute over accusations of bias and inaccuracy, while at least five senior staff members from the current affairs division had left RTHK. [South China Morning Post]

The 2021 world press freedom index of Reporters without Borders (RSF) concluded for Hong Kong that the “national security law that the Chinese government adopted in June 2020, […] is especially dangerous for journalists,” and adds that the “public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is being subjected to a full-blown intimidation campaign by the government with the aim of restricting its editorial autonomy.” 

China was ranked fourth to last out of 180 countries at 177 as it “continues to take Internet censorship, surveillance and propaganda to unprecedented levels.” It is also is the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, with currently over 120 of them detained. [RSF] [Aljazeera]

27 April 2021

China: Former Premier Wen Jiabao’s eulogy about his mother 

(dql) In a move, unusual for a retired Chinese leader, former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao published a personal reminiscence about his late mother, describing how she had been tested by hardship during the Cultural Revolution and how she taught him to live an honest, thrifty life. [China Digital Times]

After Wen’s article has been blocked by Chinese internet firms, speculations have risen that the censorship is due hidden criticism of current developments of party and politics in China by a political heavyweight within the party. [Straits Times] [CNN] [The Print]

Bo Zhiyue in [Channel News Asia] provides an analysis of the article and suggests aspects which reveal a possible hidden critic of Xi Jinping’s system and ideology of absolute party leadership, including the fact that Wen mentions the word retirement three times in combination with the words terms and 10 years, while the word party is not mention at all in the article. 

For Wen’s article, see [Macau Herald, in Chinese], which concludes with: “The China I envisioned is a just and righteous state where human feelings, humanity and human nature is always respected, and which always the temperament of youth, freedom and struggle. This is what I have cried out and struggled for. This is the truth which life has taught me and which my mother gave me.”

27 April 2021

China: Elevating Xi Jinping’s legal thoughts

(dql) China’s lawmakers are called on to adhere to legal thoughts of President Xi Jinping as “fundamental guidance” to govern China with laws. Giving a lecture to a group of more than 250 lawmakers, Wang Chen, a vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee and a member of the Communist Party’s 25-strong Politburo, called Xi’s legal theories the “latest achievement of the sinicisation of Marx’s legal theories”, adding that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party was what distinguished China’s legal system from those in the West. [South China Morning Post]

In an article in 2019 in Qiushi, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) main theoretical periodical, Xi Jinping made it explicitly clear that the development of China’s legal system will not “follow the model of western constitutionalism, separation of powers, and judicial independence.” [Qiushi, In Chinese]

Wang’s remarks are seen largely as part of efforts to lift Xi’s personal status in the CCP’s history ahead of its centenary in July as well as the 20th national congress of the party next year at which where Xi is expected to seek a third term as the party’s leader.

20 April 2021

Laos: Another deal made with Chinese companies for land developments 

(py) Following a MoU with Lao authorities, Chinese firm Jia Run will conduct feasibility studies for land developments in the southern Lao’s Attapeu province with an investment volume of up to 152 million USD. There have been concerns over growing Chinese influence in the country. Up to now, Chinese investments and land concessions for development purpose have been notorious for their backlashes on local and the environment, as well as alleged labor law violations. Criticism of the government may lead to a prison sentence, making protests unlikely. Meanwhile, President Thongloun Sisoulith has puzzled Laotians in his latest speech by urging citizens to report any wrongdoings of the police but warned social media users not to post anything critical of the government leadership. [Radio Free Asia 1][Radio Free Asia 2] [China Dialogue]

20 April 2021

Philippines to increase patrols in South China Sea, summons Chinese envoy

(lp) The Philippines summoned the Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huan Xilian and demanded that China withdraw all its vessels from Philippine maritime zones. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese vessels dispersed across these zones increased to at least 261. [Reuters 1] [Rappler]

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continued to patrol the South China Sea, not using warships or air forces that China could misinterpret as a declaration of war. Meanwhile, the US and the Philippines proceed with Balikatan, a two-week joint naval war exercise, which some officials worry could heighten tensions with China. Moreover, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. called on the US for caution in their patrols, referring to the powerful US Navy’s 7th Fleet stationed in Japan. The US and the Philippines attempt to show military power without triggering war. [Bangkok Post] [Inquirer] [Manila Bulletin 1]

Most recently, the AFP also refuted rumors of a coup allegedly motivated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s inaction against China’s incursion. In stark contrast with his previous attitude towards Beijing, Duterte responded that he is willing to confront China, but he believes it would be futile and bloody. What is more, the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US would not be activated if the Philippines starts the war, instead of being attacked. [CNN] [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) is verifying reports that China is undergoing deep-sea drilling in the South China Sea. This was reported by China’s state news agency, Xinhua, who did not specify where the drilling activity took place. Duterte claimed that, if these reports verify that China is drilling in Philippine territory, he would send warships to lay claim to the resources that China must “share.” [Manila Bulletin 2] [Reuters 2]

20 April 2021

India’s shadow looms over revived China-Bhutan border talks

(lm) During a four-day meeting of experts between China and Bhutan last week, the two sides agreed to resume long-delayed talks on their disputed boundary, but analysts say a breakthrough is unlikely, given Indian influence over Bhutan. [South China Morning Post] [The EurAsian Times]

Since 1984, Bhutan and China have held 24 rounds of talks, with discussions being limited to three areas of dispute in the western and central sections of the boundary. Talks have been frozen since 2017, however, following the months-long border stand-off between China and India in Doklam, a territory claimed by both Beijing and Thimphu. Back then, New Delhi, which has historically close ties and considerable influence over Bhutan, supported Thimphu’s claims, in part because the area is close to the Siliguri corridor, a narrow stretch of land also known as the ‘Chicken’s Neck’ that connects India’s north-east with the mainland. The issue ended inconclusively when both India and China agreed to withdraw from the plateau in August 2017. [AiR 29. December 2017]

In July of last year, then, Beijing for the first time publicly put on record that is has a border dispute with Bhutan over the country`s eastern sector, and – in a tangential reference to India – said that “a third party should not point fingers” in the Sino-Bhutan border dispute. Beijing`s assertion followed earlier attempts to stop the funding for the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) in eastern Bhutan’s Trashigang district, which China claimed was “disputed”. [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]

20 April 2021

India-China border disengagement expected to be a lengthy process

(lm) Along the Sino-Indian border, high up in the Himalayas, tensions continue to simmer after the latest round of talks held on April 9 ended with no sign of progress. The latest negotiations, unlike previous rounds of talks, ended without a joint statement playing up the prospect of disengagement. [The Straits Times]

After nine months of tense military confrontation, the two sides in February began withdrawing from their positions on the southern and northern banks of Pangong Lake as part of a phased, synchronized military disengagement [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. But Beijing and New Delhi are yet to resolve other “friction points”, including Gogra, Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh, which did not feature in the purported disengagement plan [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. [The Indian Express]

A statement released by the Western Theatre Command of the Chinese military said both sides will maintain military and diplomatic contact, while at the same time urging India to “treasure the current positive situation of de-escalation”. A separate statement by India said that the completion of disengagement in other areas would pave the way for restoring calm and that both sides agreed on “the need to resolve the outstanding issues in an expeditious manner in accordance with the existing agreements and protocols”. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, in a virtual discussion at the annual Raisina Dialogue [see article above], India’s Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat last week said India has a stood firm on the northern border against China, adding that it was “my way or no other way” about the drawn-out border stand-off. [South China Morning Post]

The General also said the development of “disruptive technologies” had emboldened China to wage an “undeclared war” against India and other nations through cyberattacks. The army chief’s statement linking China to cyberattacks comes after a US internet security firm in February alleged that a hacking group affiliated with the Chinese government had been repeatedly targeted a dozen critical nodes across the Indian power generation and transmission infrastructure to possibly coerce New Delhi on the border issue

20 April 2021

France, India and Australia step up trilateral cooperation, with China on the horizon

(lm) France, India and Australia have indicated they are jointly planning to step up their presence in the Indo-Pacific, modelling their closer cooperation after the efforts of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), in areas such as maritime security, vaccine cooperation, higher education and emerging technology. [South China Morning Post]

The countries’ three foreign ministers were speaking on April 14 in a virtual discussion at the Raisina Dialoue, a multilateral conference held annually in New Delhi, after Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne cancelled her trip to the Indian capital due to the coronavirus pandemic. In September of last year, the three countries held their first-ever trilateral meeting at the foreign-secretary level to explore possible ways of cooperation in addressing the challenges of maritime security in the Indo-Pacific [see AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]. Their second trilateral discussion took place in February, leading up to last week’s cancelled meeting [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].

India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the trilateral, in its next meeting, would discuss “something similar” to the list of topics on the agenda of the Quad – a loose strategic coalition comprising of France, the United States, India and Australia, which is increasingly seen as a potential counterweight to growing Chinese influence and alleged assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. Jaishankar also said that New Delhi would not be constrained between the Strait of Malacca and the Gulf of Aden. [Hindustan Times]

Jaishankar’s French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian underscored France’s legitimate role in the Indo-Pacific by pointing to the two million French inhabitants in the region. Apart from inviting all Quad members to its La Perouse naval exercise held earlier this month, the French Navy’s Carrier Strike Group will be joining Indian naval forces to jointly conduct this year’s iteration of their Exercise Varuna in the strategically important Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Notably, the United Arab Emirates for the first time will be joining the drills [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].

Meanwhile, Australia’s High Commissioner to India on April 20 launched the Australia-India Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Partnership (AIIPOIP) grant program, which seeks proposal on how the two countries alongside with other regional partners can advance their shared maritime objectives. [EastMojo]

20 April 2021

North Korea-China relations: North Korean imports from China spike in March 

(nm) As speculation is growing that North Korea might reopen its border with China after sealing off all borders at the outbreak of the pandemic, imports from China to North Korea have grown to a six-month high in March. After Pyongyang had introduced even stricter border controls in October, trade had practically come to a halt. China accounts for more than 90% of the North’s trade. Given existing UN sanctions against North Korea, observers believe that exports from China would, however, not return to pre-sanctions level, but be limited to farm production materials, such as fertilisers, tractors, and agricultural machinery parts.

Although Pyongyang claims it had had no Covid-19 infections, the country was among the first to close its borders and has since imposed one of the strictest border control policies with flights, cargo ships, and trains being suspended. Beijing and Pyongyang are currently speculated to be moving closer amid growing tensions with the US. [South China Morning Post] [Korea Herald]

20 April 2021

Japan-US relations: Biden and Suga demonstrate unity in challenging China’s security threats

(dql) Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last week met US President Joe Biden to discuss an array of issues of US-Japan relations in Washington, with China topping the agenda. It was Biden’s first face-to-face White House summit since taking office, signaling Japan’s central role in US efforts to face down Beijing.

Demonstrating unity in responding to China’s security threats, Biden announced in a press conference after the meeting that both leaders affirmed “ironclad support for the U.S.-Japanese alliance and for our shared security,” and both sides’ commitment “to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo Pacific.” Biden and Suga vowed to “oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” and to object “China’s unlawful maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea .”

Further China-related concerns discussed at the meeting included Beijing’s increased military activities near Taiwan, its tightening grip on Hong Kong and the human rights situation of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Marking what observers call Japan’s strongest political challenge to China, the joint statement contained for the first time since 1969, before Tokyo normalized ties with Beijing in 1972, a reference to Taiwan, stating that both sides “underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” In another hit against China, the two leaders agreed to invest together in 5G, artificial intelligence and quantum computing and “affirmed their commitment to the security and openness of 5th generation (5G) wireless networks and concurred that it is important to rely on trustworthy vendors.” [White House 1] [White House 2] [South China Morning Post] [VoA]

20 April 2021

China-Spain relations: Trade and economic relations strengthened in phone call

(zh) China’s foreign minister Wang Yi has spoken by phone with Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Arancha González Laya. The two sides addressed the bilateral economic and trade relations.

González highlighted the frank dialogue Spain has maintained with China, adding that Spain considers the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics as an opportunity for athletes. The comment comes amid the discussion for a possible boycott of the Beijing Games in protest of China’s crackdown in Xinjiang.

On the Chinese side, Wang noted China and Europe are partners, not rivals, and China’s development is not a threat but an opportunity for Europe, marking Beijing’s latest attempt to push Europe away from the US amid a looming closer EU-US relation under the Biden administration. [Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation][Xinhua]

Meanwhile, 46 Taiwanese nationals were sentenced to up to 13 years in prison after a Beijing court found them guilty of involvement in telecom fraud and swindling 678,000 USD from 66 Chinese people from Spain. The 46 were part of the 237 telecom fraud suspects (218 of them being Taiwanese) arrested by police authorities in Madrid and Barcelona in 2016. Defying opposition from Taiwan, Spain deported them all to China, including the Taiwanese. [Focus Taiwan]

20 April 2021

New Zealand is “uncomfortable” with expanding role of Five Eyes to counter China

(zh) In a speech to the government-funded New Zealand China Council, New Zealand’s foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said the country is “uncomfortable” with expanding the role of the Five Eyes – the intelligence-sharing network including the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. She added that Wellington is not willing “to invoke the Five Eyes as the first point of contact of messaging out on a range of issues that really exist out of the remit of the Five Eyes,” but will continue to seek a “consistent and predictable approach through diplomacy and dialogue” toward Beijing, including issues where disagreements with China exist, including Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Mahuta’s remark comes after earlier this month Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne had called for the Five Eyes to coordinate a more united front on China and cooperate on issues including policies on critical minerals and sensitive technology as well as a ban on Huawei technologies. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post] [AiR No.14, April/2021, 1]

20 April 2021

China, Taiwan lodge solemn representations over Japan’s decision to discharge nuclear wastewater

(zh) China has summoned Japan’s ambassador and lodged solemn representations over Tokyo’s “wrong decision” to discharge around 1.25 million tons of treated water that was used to cool melted fuel from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean. China’s foreign ministry accused Tokyo of “violation of international law”, criticizing Tokyo’s action as “extremely irresponsible”.

Similarly, Taiwan’s foreign ministry has also made a “solemn representation” to Japan after the island’s main opposition party Kuomingtang (KMT) urged the government to lodge a “solemn protest” instead of just expressing being “highly concerned.” [Reuters][Taiwan News]

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga defended his decision saying the release of the water was an “inevitable task” since the plant’s capacity to store the wastewater is expected to run out as early as the fall of 2022. He reassured that Japan would “take every measure to absolutely guarantee the safety of the treated water and address misinformation.” [New York Times]

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has endorsed Japan’s decision, saying it is “technically feasible and in line with international practice”. However, three United Nations human rights experts have expressed disappointment over Tokyo’s release of the water, criticizing it “imposes considerable risks” to human health and the environment. [CNBC][South China Morning Post] [UN News]


20 April 2021

EU-China relations: Brussel refuses to repay Montenegro’s loan from China, drops plans for new measures over Hong Kong electoral reform 

(zh) The European Union (EU) has rebuffed Montenegro’s repeated pleas to help repay the billion-dollar loan from China for the unfinished first phase of the Bar-Boljare highway despite concerns over the “socio-economic and financial effects of some of China’s investments” in the tiny Balkan country. Montenegro, a candidate for EU membership, has taken out a loan of 944 million USD from China to build its first section of the highway that will run from its Adriatic coast to the Serbian capital, Belgrade. The country’s Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic has called on the EU to help replace the debt, stressing it would help curb China’s influence in the region. But the EU said it “does not repay loans of partners which they took from third parties”, believing there will be other better solutions for the country.

The highway project that is under China’s Belt and Road Initiative has been seen as an example of Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy”. In 2020, the cost of the first phase of the construction was estimated to be equal to 45% of the country’s GDP, while the country’s public debt was equal to 90.85%. [Balkan Insight][South China Morning Post 1]

Meanwhile, the EU has withdrawn its plan for new measures against Beijing’s roll-out of sweeping electoral reforms in Hong Kong – including suspension of extradition treaties with China – after failing to secure support from all 27 member states, with Hungary blocking a joint statement. [South China Morning Post 2] [South China Morning Post 3][Reuters]  

In March, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the top decision-making body of the China’s legislature, approved a far-reaching overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system. The US and many European countries decried the electoral reform as Beijing’s latest move to crack down on opposition and political dissent in the former British colony. [AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5]

20 April 2021

China discusses climate change with France, Germany, and US

(zh) China’s President Xi Jinping attended a trilateral virtual climate meeting with France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, at which he reassured China’s willingness to strengthen cooperation on climate change with France and Germany. He, however, also warned that climate change “should not be a bargaining chip for geopolitics, a target for attacking other countries, or an excuse for trade barriers,” referring to the European Parliament’s creation of a carbon border tax that would shield EU companies from cheaper imports from countries with weaker climate policies. [Reuters] [France 24]

Merkel and Macron confirmed to closely work with the Chinese President on climate change, welcoming his reaffirmation of China’s goal of carbon-neutrality before 2060 and expressing support for China to adjust its shorter-term emissions goals. [Deutsche Welle]

After weeks of tensions over EU sanctions and Chinese counter-sanctions over Xinjiang that threaten to upend the EU-China investment deal, the meeting, arranged on invitation of Macron following a phone between Merkel and Xi on the former’s invitation, was an attempt on side of the two European leaders to de-escalate the tensions between Beijing and Brussel and find common ground to cooperate. [South China Morning Post]

In the meantime, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry met his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in Shanghai. It was the first time the US official from the Biden administration visit China, signaling hopes for two sides to cooperate on climate change despite sky-high tensions on multiple fronts. The joint statement confirmed that the two countries are “committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis”. Both sides “look forward” to the Leader Summit on Climate on 22-23 April, a Biden-hosted virtual summit that invites 39 countries including – among others – China, Russia, Canada, Japan and India. The statement, however, did not specify whether President Xi Jinping will attend. [US Department of State] [AiR No.14, April/2021, 1]


20 April 2021

Australia warns China of “disastrous” conflict with Taiwan

(zh) Speaking at this year’s Raisina Dialogue, the Indian government-sponsored annual multilateral conference on geopolitics and geo-economics, Australia’s defense chief Angus Campbell warned that a military scenario over Taiwan would be “disastrous” for the region and urged countries to “all work to avoid” the potential conflict on the island, stressing the importance of a peaceful resolution across the Taiwan Strait. [Guardian]

Campbell’s remark comes after in March US Asia Pacific Commander Philip Davidson publicly voiced concerns over Taiwan (along with Guam) being potential next targets of China’s external aggression and over a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan within the next six years. Earlier this month, Michael Goldman, the charge d’affaires ad interim at the US embassy in Canberra, revealed that the US and Australia are discussing strategic planning, of which a Taiwan contingency was identified as an important component.  [AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3] [Republic World] [AiR No.14, April/2021, 1].

Meanwhile, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the same event warned of the world moving toward “a great polarization” between authoritarian regimes and liberal democracies, adding in a very thinly veiled critic of China that “economic coercion is being employed as a tool of statecraft” and “liberal rules and norms are under assault.” [Bloomberg]

The relations between Beijing and Canberra have strained over trade restrictions, Australia’s call for an independent investigation of Covid-19 origins, and human rights concerns. In a latest development, import licenses for hay from 25 Australian business that expired two months ago have not been renewed China’s General Administration of Customs. Meanwhile, China’s ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye earlier last week warned Beijing would respond “in kind” if Canberra imposes sanctions over Xinjiang human rights concerns. [South China Morning Post] [AiR No.15, April/2021, 2]. 

20 April 2021

Republican lawmakers call for expansion of restrictions on tech exports to China

(zh/dql) US lawmakers of the Republican Party have called the Biden administration to make it mandatory for American based tech manufacturers of electronic design automation tools, used to help design computer chips, to obtain a governmental license before exporting any products to China.  [South China Morning Post]

The call comes shortly after the US Commerce Department earlier this month put seven Chinese supercomputing entities on its economic blacklist for “building supercomputers used by China’s military actors, its destabilizing military modernization efforts, and/or weapons of mass destruction programs.”

Chinese super processors are among the best in the world, with 214 of them included in the list of the fastest 500 (the US has 113). The fourth most powerful one is developed by the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi which is among the seven targeted entities. [Asia News]


20 April 2021

US intelligence community warns against China as greatest threat

(dql/zh) Calling China an increasingly “near-peer competitor, challenging the United States in multiple arenas,” the 2021 threat assessment report of the US intelligence agencies identifies China’s effort to expand its growing influence as “one of the largest threats to the United States,” warning of intensifying gray-zone battles for power, involving intelligence operations, cyberattacks and global drives for influence. Among other findings, the report predicts that China will at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile over the course of the next decade and field a nuclear triad, while concluding that Chinese cyberattacks “at a minimum, can cause localized, temporary disruptions to critical infrastructure within the United States.” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, USA]

In the meantime, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray in his testimony before US Congress said “no other country represented more of a threat to the US than China,” adding that Beijing’s capacity to influence US institutions was “deep and wide and persistent,” with the FBI having over 2000 investigations tying back to China and opening a new one “every 10 hours”. In particular, he highlighted Beijing’s operation “Foxhunt,” in which China conducts “uncoordinated illegal law enforcement activity” in US territory as a means to “threaten, intimidate harass (and) blackmail” members of the ethnically Chinese “diaspora”. Beijing sees “Foxhunt” as an international anti-corruption campaign, defending the Chinese authority strictly abides international law. [CNN]

20 April 2021

China blocks US think tank website

(zh) The website of US think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has been blocked in China after the release of a piece criticizing Beijing’s sanctions on the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), a leading German think tank and the largest European think tank with an exclusive focus on China. 

Scott Kennedy, a CSIS fellow who co-wrote the critique, criticized Beijing  for “believ[ing] it has the right to police debate about China wherever it occurs in the world, whoever does the work, on whatever platform that it appears”. [South China Morning Post]


20 April 2021

China blocks US think tank website

(zh) The website of US think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has been blocked in China after the release of a piece criticizing Beijing’s sanctions on the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), a leading German think tank and the largest European think tank with an exclusive focus on China. 

Scott Kennedy, a CSIS fellow who co-wrote the critique, criticized Beijing  for “believ[ing] it has the right to police debate about China wherever it occurs in the world, whoever does the work, on whatever platform that it appears”. [South China Morning Post]


20 April 2021

China: Feminist online channels shut down

(dql) Douban, a popular Chinese social media platform providing users forums to discuss social issues, closed feminist channels citing content containing “extremism and radical political and ideological thoughts.” Douban added that the closure came in response complaints from users and “related departments,” while referencing to China’s cybersecurity law and other internet regulations.

Many of the targeted channels relates to the so-called “6B4T” notion, a feminist movement which originated in South Korea and promotes the idea of women becoming more empowered by shunning activities seen as centered around or designed to benefit men.

In an immediate response, users created new channels on Douban to reinstate the erased channels, while the hashtag “women stick together” on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, quickly reached 50 million views. [Quartz] [Reuters]


20 April 2021

China: Confession of first foreigner prosecuted over Hong Kong protest aired

(dql) Chinese state television aired a confession of Chinese-born Belize businessman Lee Henley Hu Xiang, a year after he became the first foreign national prosecuted for providing funding to the Hong Kong protests and sentenced to 11 years in jail. 

Following four Taiwanese citizens, Lee is the fifth person to appear on national TV to confess to national security crimes.

To observers, the broadcast of Lee’s confession signals China’s determination to pursue suspects anywhere in the world that it deems to have harmed its national security. It also comes after the country’s revised Criminal Law took effect on March 1 under which “offering support” to someone deemed a national security threat is now a crime worldwide, and for citizens of any nation. [Radio Free Asia]

20 April 2021

China: Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists sentenced 

(dql) Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon and outspoken critic of Beijing Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to 14 months in prison after a court found him guilty of organizing and participating in an unauthorized assembly in summer 2019. Along with Lai eight other veteran democracy activists were sentenced, among them 82-year-old Martin Lee Martin Lee, the “father of democracy” in Hong Kong, and lawyer and former opposition lawmaker Margaret Ng, 73, whose sentences were suspended. Lee and Ng received the Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights of the International Bar Association shortly after the assembly in question. 

Critics, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, view the verdicts as latest effort of Beijing to crack down on rights and freedoms in the former British colony. [ABC News] [BBC] [Hong Kong Free Press] [Reuters]


20 April 2021

Coordination in the South China Sea: Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia

(lp) Last week, the Philippines and Malaysia reaffirmed their commitment to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on defense cooperation signed in 1994. Similarly, Vietnam and Malaysia announced that they will sign a MOU this year to strengthen cooperation in maritime security. Moreover, Malaysia and Indonesia will pursue a joint development of oil and gas elds on their maritime boundaries. These latest cooperation form part of a broader effort to find unified ranks towards China, dating back some years. Analysts welcomed the move, which could solidify the bargaining position of Southeast Asian Nations towards China, which prefers unilateral agreements. The biggest obstacle to such joint action were called “intramural differences” by experts among themselves, such as conflicts over illegal fishing, which are concentrating resources and limiting bargaining power. [Manila Bulletin] [South China Morning Post]

13 April 2021

India-Russia defense ties deepen, even as Moscow hails ‘highest’ level of Beijing relations

(lm) Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar on April 4 discussed closer military cooperation, including manufacturing of Russian military hardware in India and the peace process in Afghanistan. Lavrov was on a two-day working visit in New Delhi to lay the groundwork for the annual India-Russia Summit to be held in India later this year. [South China Morning Post]

Strikingly, Lavrov did not meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Indian media reports suggest the Indian government was unhappy that Lavrov’s trip to India was combined with one to Pakistan [see article below]. Another theory goes that Washington urged New Delhi not to have Modi meet Lavrov. 

United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry also held a brief meeting with Lavrov while both officials were in India [see article in this edition]. The official explanation was that they met by happenstance and spoke about climate change. But they may well have spoken on other issues, including the Iran nuclear deal. [Foreign Policy]

During a news conference held subsequently, both diplomats sidestepped questions on India’s planned purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system, which under US law can attract sanction similar to those imposed on Turkey last year [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. Jaishankar said the pending delivery would be discussed at a meeting of defense ministers later in the year. [Bloomberg]

India’s arm imports have decreased by a whopping 33 percent in the second half of the decade, as New Delhi attempts to reduce dependence on Russia. For arms exports by Moscow, which accounted for 20 percent of all exports of major arms between 2016 and 2020, dropped by 22 percent. [AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]

Importantly, the Russian foreign minister also ruled out a military alliance with China, saying such a discussion was not on the table even as he described Moscow-Beijing bilateral ties as being “the highest in history at the summit level”. Speculation that Beijing and Moscow could develop a united front against NATO had emerged after Russian President Vladimir Putin last October said he would not “rule out” a possible pact with China.

But what is more, against the backdrop of India’s growing strategic convergence with the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, Lavrov’s remarks were to tacitly signal to New Delhi to stay clear from attempts by Washington to turn the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) – a loose strategic coalition of Japan, India, Australia and the United States – into an Indo-Pacific NATO. [Deccan Herald]

Meanwhile, three decades after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Moscow has become a key player in the Afghan peace process. Russia has hosted several meetings on Afghan reconciliation in the last two years, including one last month in Moscow with Taliban leaders and senior diplomats from the United States, China and Pakistan – but not India. On his most recent trip, Lavrov—accompanied to New Delhi by the Russian special envoy for Afghanistan—did call for a prominent Indian role in the peace process. [Tolo News]

The two sides also discussed vaccine cooperation, as New Delhi is set to clear the Russia-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, which will make available a third vaccine option for the South Asian nation. [Anadolu Agency]


13 April 2021

Myanmar’s military to use Chinese drones

(lf) According to the British intelligence magazine Jane International Defence Review, Myanmar’s Airforce seems to have been using Chinese drones to monitor and potentially intimidate protestors. The drones, that had been manufactured by the Chinese state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Cooperation had been delivered to Myanmar between 2013 and 2015. It is assumed that the Tatmadaw owns around 10 to 12 drones. The delivery had been made with the intention of monitoring the ongoing insurgency movements in Myanmar’s border region. However, until now there has been only one confirmed sighting of the drones in 2016. [Radio Free Asia]

13 April 2021

Laos: Chinese Casino King to expand the empire out of the Golden Triangle SEZ

(py) Zhao Wei, the chairman of the King Romans Group, which since 2007 has been operating the tourism and gambling enclave in northern Laos, the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GTSEZ), is now exploring to expand his business out of the triangle. Zhao has recently visited Saravan in southern Laos to meet and discuss the possibility of developing agricultural and tourism development projects with the governor. Besides, Zhao’s company is also conducting a feasibility study in Pek district in northern Laos near the 3000-year-old UNESCO plain of jars. As of now, no concession agreement has been made. The company plans to build a traditional medicine factory, a golf course and a tourist attraction on the 150-hectare land. Scholars said Zhao’s growing presence all over Laos epitomizes the closer ties between Laos and China and the consequent changing physical and economic landscape in the country. In the same vein, the casino magnate also stroked a deal to build a $50 million port on a loosely patrolled area of Mekong upstream of the GTSEZ, which expert said could facilitate greater commercial activity, both legal and illegal, in Laos. In 2018, the US Treasury Department introduced sanctions on Zhao for engagements in criminal activities such as drug, human and wildlife trafficking, money laundering and bribery, which are believed to be committed under the Kings Romans Casino. 

Recently, Laos has been very successful in attracting foreign direct investment and aids. During the talks between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Prime Minister of Laos, Phankham Viphavanh, Suga confirmed to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two by pledging about 1.8 million USD to set up cold chain facilities to store Covid-19 vaccines in Laos and agreeing to support the improvements of international airports. [The Diplomat] [Radio Free Asia] [The Laotian Times]


13 April 2021

International Reactions on coup in Myanmar:  Sanctions and UN envoy

(lf) The UN special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener is expected to tour Asia in order to help facilitate diplomatic actions to handle the mounting crisis in Myanmar. Burgener is expected to visit neighbouring Thailand and China, and was earlier denied entrance to Myanmar. [Asia Times]

The US has imposed sanctions against the four major gemstone company in Myanmar, deemed as “a key economic resource” for the military regime and connected to the military. As a primary source for jade in the world, these sanctions will have a severe impact on government funding. Among the four sanctioned companies, Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE) contributes to about half of the military’s revenue. [BBC 1]

Russia, on the other hand, has been opposing further international sanctions, stating that it is worried the actions taken might lead to a civil war in the country. Russia was one of the eight countries to send a delegate to Myanmar’s annual military parade, which turned out to be the deadliest day of the protests. [South China Morning Post]

China announced to have been in contact with all sides of the conflict, having spoken both to the generals as well as members of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). The CRPH represents lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD). The Tatmadaw has declared the CRPH as an illegal organisation. China aims at playing a peace-promoting force in the crisis and has so far not condemned the violence or coup. China might be the most influential force, having previously been one of the few countries that had contact under the last military rule. [Reuters 1]

Malaysia has defended their ambassadors meeting with the generals, for which it had received a major backlash. Besides Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia have voiced their concerns over the growing violence in Myanmar. [Reuters 2]

In the UK the former ambassador of Myanmar Kyaw Zwar Minn to the UK has been locked out of the embassy by the military attaché after publicly condemning the coup and calling for a return of the former government. The British foreign ministry has accepted the change in the staff of the embassy, consequently ending the job of the former ambassador. The UK government has been asked to not recognize the new ambassador send by the military to take a diplomatic stance against the coup. Bound to the Vienna conventions for diplomacy this puts the British government in a dilemma: According to the convention the change in ambassadors is to be accepted, however, this may result in being accused of supporting the military government. Nonetheless, Britain has allowed the former ambassador to stay. [BBC 2] [Reuters 3]

13 April 2021

Philippines: Tensions remain high in South China Sea

(lp) The Philippines filed two more diplomatic protests against China’s incursion into Philippine territory, but these have been largely neglected by China. Thus, the Philippines is seeking support from allies to make China retreat. [CNN]

The US assured that it will defend the Philippines in case of any attack on a state-owned vessel, as stated in their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). Moreover, the US Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group showcased this commitment to prevent China’s expansionism in the South China Sea. The Philippines welcomed these developments and even proposed to hold joint naval thrills with the US, while emphasizing it attempts to resolve the tensions with China through diplomatic channels. [Benar News] [Manila Bulletin 1] Motivated by this latest incursion, the Philippines is to discuss the conditions of the MDT with the US. In particular, the Philippines hopes to expand the trigger of the MDT to include attacks on public citizen vessels. Moreover, the Philippines demanded that the US provides real-time access to their intelligence data on the South China Sea. [CNN] [Manila Bulletin]

To resume an annual training which was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the two will start a two-week joint military exercise from April 12. [Channel News Asia]

Japan is also wary of China’s expansionism, as it spotted a Chinese aircraft and five escort vessels passing throughJapan’s key waterways off Nagasaki and Okinawa. Japan also confirmed its allyship with the Philippines, but vowed to avoid war and promote peace in the South China Sea. Thus, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is planning visits to the Philippines and India during April, and talks with US President Joe Biden. [Manila Bulletin 2]

Most recently, two Chinese missile-attack crafts allegedly harassed a Philippine vessel carrying journalists investigating the impacts of China’s incursion on Filipino fishermen. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense (DND) have announced investigations. Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) announced that the “Task Force Pagsasanay” will improve training of its personnel on navigation along various waters, and maintenance and logistical operations. [The Diplomat] [Manila Bulletin 3]

13 April 2021

Indonesia, China future of stalled BRI projects 

(nd) Several projects, which form part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have been significantly delayed due to financial and environmental considerations, most lately the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Rail project. The Chinese Foreign Ministry was citing the pandemic, as a matter of fact, many projects were stalling before the outbreak.

According to a recent analysis, Indonesia should use this as a reminder to address potential problems of large-scale BRI infrastructure projects before signing up. BRI project implementation began in 2013 through a comprehensive strategic partnership negotiated by then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and has initially prompted controversy and opposition in Indonesia. Points of criticism were the untransparent financing and corruption, financial viability as well as environmental issues. After many delays, the railway project is estimated to be $1.39 billion over budget, mainly because of issues with land acquisition and work incident, like the burning of the fuel distribution pipe, which collided with the construction of the train line. Despite needed investments from China, Indonesia still has a certain bargaining power, for China is depended on Indonesia for the realization of a maritime route from China to Rotterdam. [The Diplomat]

13 April 2021

Cambodia, China unlikely to gain from Naval Base

(nd) Despite much attention on the establishment of a Chinese naval base in Cambodia, referring to China’s expanding military presence in the region, China is not likely to gain much strategically due to Cambodia’s geographic position. In comparison to Thailand, where the average water depth is 50m, the waters off Cambodia’s coasts are only 5 to 10 meters deep, which does not permit major naval action, with practically no possibility to use submarines. Additionally, the specific location is relatively unimportant in relation to international sea lanes of communication.

Even if argued, the Ream Naval Base could be a stopover point for China to protect and control its shipping lanes in the Malacca Strait, this function is already assumed by Chinese facilities at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. Additionally, China stands to lose more diplomatically from it, provoking a security escalation with Thailand. Despite seemingly orbiting closer to China, Thailand has secured a $400 million arms sale with the US in 2019. Amid the rising tension in the South China Sea, Vietnam has also engaged more closely with the US on security issues and purchased US defense equipment after the lift of an arms embargo by the Obama administration in 2016. Two years later, Vietnam joined the Rim of the Pacific, the world’s largest maritime exercise.

Lastly, the advantage of a Chinese facility in Cambodia is dependent on a long-pursued infrastructure project to connect the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand and providing an alternative to the Malacca Strait, the so-called Kra Canal in southern Thailand. Due to its cost intensity, there are talks of a bridge instead of the canal, which is of no use to Chinese navy. [The Diplomat]

13 April 2021

Sri Lanka to receive $500 million emergency loan from China as rupee hits record low

(lm) Sri Lanka secured a long-awaited $500 million loan from the China Development Bank on April 12 in a desperate bid to shore up its foreign exchange reserves. Earlier, Sri Lanka’s local currency hit a record low after its foreign reserves plummeted to $4.05 billion at the end of March, the lowest in 12 years. [Channel NewsAsia

It is the second Chinese loan made in less than three weeks. Last month, the People’s Bank of China granted a $1.54 billion currency swap to finance imports from China, affirming Beijing’s role as lender of the last resort for the South Asian island nation. [AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3].

Dwindling foreign reserves, a tumbling currency and rising debt levels have dogged Sri Lanka over the last year, leading to concerns about Colombo’s ability to fulfill its foreign debt repayments [see AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2] Following the sealing of the deal, Sri Lanka’s government bonds jumped to their highest level since September of last year. [Reuters]

13 April 2021

Xi signals Merkel unease over current statues of Sino-EU relations 

(zh) Signaling unease over looming closer EU-US relations under the Biden administration, Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said he saw “various challenges” in Sino-EU relations, but hoped the EU to “independently” make correct judgments and see China’s rise as an opportunity. Xi also added China is willing to promote “fair and reasonable distribution” of Covid-19 vaccines and opposes vaccine nationalism, stressing the importance to “exclude external interference” on both sides. In response, Merkel reaffirmed that the EU would maintain its autonomy on foreign policy, while stressing the “importance of dialogue on the full range of ties, including issues on which there are different opinions.” [Reuters][South China Morning Post]

The phone call comes at a time of strained relations between the EU and China. Last month, the EU along with the UK, US, and Canada had imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights concerns in Xinjiang, in response to which China later slapped tit-for-tat sanctions on four entities and 10 Europeans including politicians and scholars [see AiR No.12, March/2021, 4]. EU’s concerns over China’s human rights issue poses uncertainty on the EU-China investment deal that currently awaits the EU Parliament’s ratification.

13 April 2021

Turkey summons China’s ambassador over criticism of crackdown on Uyghurs

(zh) Turkey has summoned China’s ambassador Liu Shaobin after his office denounced two Turkish politicians over their criticism of Beijing’s action against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Chinese embassy on Twitter has “resolutely opposed and strongly condemned any challenge by any person or power to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, which was interpreted as threats to Good Party leader Meral Aksener and Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas for their Twitter posts that commemorate the killing of Uyghurs by Chinese forces during an uprising  in April 1990, calling it a “massacre.” [Euronews][South China Morning Post]

The Uyghur communities in Turkey have repeatedly expressed its concerns over China’s crackdown in Xinjiang. Last month, during the visit of his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has conveyed Ankara’s “sensitivity and thoughts” about Uyghurs Muslims and about 1000 people had gathered in Istanbul to protests Beijing’s treatment in Xinjiang [see AiR No.13, March/2021, 5].


13 April 2021

China warns Australia of sanctions over Xinjiang

(zh) China’s ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye has warned Beijing would respond “in kind” if Canberra follows other countries in imposing sanctions over human rights abuses in Xinjiang in a media event at his official residence in Canberra, saying people should not have the illusion that “China would swallow the bitter pill”. The warning was one of Beijing’s attempts to push back the international criticism over its action against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. [Guardian 1]

The relations between the two countries have fallen to a low point over trade restrictions China has imposed in response to Australia’s criticism of human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and to Canberra’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last month, Beijing slapped anti-dumping duties on Australia’s wine imports . [AiR No. 14, April/2021, 1] In a latest development, Australia’s Trade Minister Dan Tehan urged the country should engage with the Indo-Pacific region, telling the country’s businesses to “step up to the plate” in repairing ties with China when launching the final joint report by Asia Society Australia and the Business Council of Australia. The [report] suggests the government adopt a “Team Australia” approach and build stronger engagement with Asian countries including Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, and India. [South China Morning Post] [Asia Society]

In line with Tehan’s call, Monash University in Melbourne, meanwhile, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indonesian government to diversify itself from reliance on Chinese students as China had sent warning of “serious threat” in studying in Australia [see AiR No.6, February/2021, 2]. Under the MoU, Monash University is granted the license to establish a campus in Indonesia with an aim to recruit thousands of postgraduate students[Guardian 2]

13 April 2021

US-Taiwan relations: New guidelines to enhance engagement between government officials 

(zh) The US State Department has announced new guidelines which liberalizes existing guidance on contact with Taiwan to “encourage” engagement between government officials of both sides, regular working-level meetings with their Taiwanese counterparts in the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in New York, Taiwan’s de-facto embassy in the US. [US Department of State] [South China Morning Post

In response, China’s Foreign Ministry warned the US “not to play with fire” on Taiwan issues and urged the US to “immediately stop any form of US-Taiwan official contacts, cautiously and appropriately handle the matter, and not send wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces so as not to subversively influence and damage Sino-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” [Aljazeera]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, warned Beijing that “it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change that status quo by force,” while reaffirming the US’ “serious commitment to Taiwan being able to defend itself,” and to “peace and security in the western Pacific.” [The Guardian]

For reasons why China is unlikely to seize Taiwan by force, see Kris Osborn in [The National Interest] who argues that even if China would be successful in taking over Taiwan, “given the sustained U.S. presence in the region and forward positioning of strike assets nearby,” it would be impossible for China “to manage to secure the island before a large counterattack was possible.”

13 April 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Tensions flare up at multiple fronts 

(zh) Taiwan’s Executive Yuan is considering amendments to the National Security Act and the Trade Secret Act to prevent China’s commercial espionage and the poaching of core technologies, particularly the semiconductor and information technology. Taiwan prohibits Chinese companies from doing business or recruiting locally without prior approval, but some firms conceal their Chinese ownership to illegally recruit workers. [Taipei Times 1]

The plan to amend those law comes at a time when Taiwan’s government has become increasingly wary of the risk of the “red supply chain”, especially amid the ongoing trade war between Beijing and Washington, worrying the island’s chip workers become targets for China’s poaching in the semiconductor industry. [AiR No.14, April/2021, 1]

China, meanwhile, continues its military muscle flexing, with 25 PLA planes flying through Taiwan’s air defense zone (ADIZ), including 14 J-16 fighter jets, four J-10 fighter jets, four H-6K bombers, two anti-submarine warfare planes and an airborne early warning and control plane on Monday. In an earlier move last week, 15 of China’s military aircraft, including 12 fighter jets, had flown into the southwestern part of the island’s ADIZ. The flights were linked to maneuvers of China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning and its escorts in the west and east of Taiwan on Monday last week, an exercise of which China said that it will be conducted regularly [CNN] [Taiwan News 1] [CNN] [Taipei Times 2]

Referring to the increased number of incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ and to US warnings of a Chinese military attack on Taiwan in the near future, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu reassured that Taiwan is willing to fight the war if needed and the island would “defend ourselves to the very last day,” adding that Taiwan ready to build up its military might and allocate more funds for defense. [Guardian 1] [Taiwan News 2]

China’s military, on its side, confirmed it has tracked the US Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain sailing through the Taiwan Strait. The US has claimed the move as a routine exercise of freedom of navigation, whereas China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command called it a tactic to “manipulate” the cross-Strait situation and China is “firmly opposed to that”. [South China Morning Post]

Finally, Taiwan has accused China of malign “vaccine diplomacy” in Paraguay – one of 15 countries which have formal relations with Taiwan – after the Paraguayan government declined China’s offer of millions of vaccine doses in exchange for cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan. China has denied the efforts to entice Paraguay with vaccines. To counter China’s mounting pressure in Central and South America where Taiwan has five allies, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Taiwan is working with like-minded countries including the Quad countries Japan, the US, and India to provide vaccine to Paraguay, adding that India has already shipped 100,000 doses to Paraguay and there would be another 100,000. [BBC][Bloomberg][South China Morning Post]

However, India denied Taiwan’s reported role in the shipment of Indian-made vaccines to Paraguay, saying the delivery was made in response to Paraguay’s request. [Hindustan Times]

In a separate move, India’s foreign ministry last week posted a message on Twitter to express condolences over more than 50 deaths in Taiwan’s most serious train crash in decades. It is probably the first time the Ministry posted online about Taiwan, indicating New Delhi’s subtle foreign policy shift amid its ongoing boundary dispute with Beijing and engagement in the Quad to counter China. As Taiwan’s foreign policy shifts from US-centric to South Asia-focused, an opinion piece in  [Taipei Times] suggests that New Delhi cooperate with countries such as the US, Japan, and Singapore to devise a consistent Taiwan policy and “take a lead in facilitating Taiwan’s inclusion,” into the evolving regional order of the Indo-Pacific. 

13 April 2021

China urges US to lift Iran sanctions to pave way for reviving Iran deal 

(zh) China has called on the US to “immediately” lift its “illicit sanction” on Iran during talks in Vienna last week Iran, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and the US aimed a road map to bring the US back to the Iran deal and Iran back to compliance with the deal’s restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program. Chinese representative Wang Qun said China supported the Joint Commission, which comprises the signatories to the Iran deal, to initiate talks to address the lifting of sanctions, adding Beijing is willing to work with the US to restore the Iran deal as soon as possible. [Xinhua]

Curbing Iran’s nuclear program has been identified as a potential area where both Washington and Beijing can cooperate. Last week, the US expressed its willingness to “narrow tactical alignment” with China on the Iran issue. China’s call for lifting Iran sanctions comes also after China’s foreign minister Wang Yi signed a 25-year agreement that exchanges China’s 400 billion USD investment for Iran’s oil supply at the end of last month. [AiR No.14, April/2021, 1] [AiR No.13, March/2021, 5]. 

Endangering the success of the talks which are expected to drag over weeks, Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility was hit by an attack which destroyed a significant amount of Iran’s uranium enrichment capability. While Iran blamed Israel for the attack, the Biden administration declared that it was not involved, while neither praising nor condemning the attack. [Egypt Independent]


13 April 2021

China-US relations: Biden’s massive domestic infrastructure, Strategic Competition Act of 2021 to counter Beijing’s challenges

(dql/zh) Promoting his 2.3 trillion USD infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden stressed that the plan – besides creating millions good-paying jobs, expanding the economy, making the US more competitive around the world, and promoting US national security interests – will put the US “in a position to win the global competition with China in the upcoming years.” Biden’s infrastructure plan provides spending in green energy projects, expanded high-speed broadband and electric vehicles as well as traditional infrastructure projects, including transportation, home care services, manufacturing, housing, water and public schools. [AP News][South China Morning Post 1]

In a separate development, leaders of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee have introduced the Strategic Competition Act of 2021 to “address issues involving the People’s Republic of China,” and to “mobilize all US strategic, economic, and diplomatic tools for an Indo-Pacific strategy” to confront challenges China poses. Among others, the bill calls for “ramped-up military financing in the so-called Indo-Pacific, advancement of China-focused sanctions, containment incentives in Asia’s leading multilateral forums, scrutiny of Chinese enterprises, and multi-million-dollar funds for countering Beijing’s infrastructure connectivity initiatives.” [Senate, USA] [South China Morning Post 2] [CGTN]

Meanwhile, a US bipartisan group of 14 House lawmakers has argued that there is a need for “increased prudence and scrutiny” in approving combatant commanders’ requests for additional forces that fall outside of the Global Force Management Allocation Plan, a Pentagon blueprint that allocates forces to the commands, warning the approval would hinder the long-term efforts to counter China and Russia. The plea comes as the Pentagon weighs how best to distribute its resources to counter China and Russia with a budget that, while sizable, is likely to remain largely flat. [Politico]

For plans of the Pentagon for a tactical withdrawal from Middle East to focus on China, see [The Arab Weekly].

13 April 2021

China: Suspended death sentence against former Xinjiang government officials 

(dql) A Chinese court handed down a suspended death sentence to Sattar Sawut, the former head of the Xinjiang education department, for his role in writing and publishing of Uygur-language primary and secondary school textbooks in Xinjiang deemed to be fomenting ethnic hatred and separatist thoughts.

Along with Sawut, his deputy at the education department and two publishers of the books were each given life sentences. Two editors from the same publishing house were also found guilty, but their sentences were not specified. [South China Morning post 1]

Meanwhile, Shirzat Bawudun, the former head of the Xinjiang department of justice, was also sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve after he was found guilty of colluding with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The ETIM is listed as a terrorist group by the United Nations. The US removed the group from its list of terror groups last November. [France 24] [AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]

For critical assessments of the verdicts as part of a policy of “cultural genocide” in Xinjiang, see [AP News] and [Radio Free Asia]

Meanwhile, a court in Xinjiang has accepted a civil case filed against US-based German researcher Adrian Zenz by Shache Xiongying Textile Limited which said that it had suffered from heavy economic losses due to Zenz’s studies on the human rights situation in Xinjiang, decried by Chinese officials as fact-distorting.

Zenz is known for his claims of Beijing’s large-scale human rights abuses against Muslims in the far-western region. He is among the individuals sanctioned by China last month in its retaliatory response to sanctions from the European Union over Beijing’s treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. [ANI]

Furthermore, the Xinjiang regional government rejected findings of the Xinjiang Data Project – a database run by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) – which it decried as established by “anti-China organisations, personnel or ‘East Turkestan’ elements, and backed by United States and Western anti-China forces,” in order “to hype the anti-China sentiment and promote anti-China campaign.” Among others flaws of the database, it declared that 90% of the 380 buildings in Xinjiang were wrongly labelled by ASPI as internment facilities arguing out of those 380 buildings, 343 were schools, government buildings, hospitals, residential blocks or shops. [South China Morning Post 2]

13 April 2021

China: Alibaba sentenced to record fine for violating anti-trust rules

(dql) Concluding a months-long anti-trust investigation, China’s regulators sentenced Alibaba Group Holding, one of the country’s largest technology conglomerates and the world’s largest e-commerce company, to a 2.75 billion USD fine after the Chinese tech giant was found guilty of “abusing market dominance” since 2015 by preventing its merchants from using other online e-commerce platforms. [Channel News Asia]

The fine is the country’s highest ever anti-trust fine and reflects China’s recent efforts to rein in the country’s tech giants which thus far have been allowed to expand in a comparatively lax regulative environment. In November last year, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) released new anti-monopoly guidelines targeting internet platforms and tightening existing restrictions faced by the country’s tech giants, shortly after which the investigation of Alibaba begun. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5

In a latest development, Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba, announced that it will comply with suggestions of the SAMR to overhaul the company and place all financial-related activities in a holding company overseen by Beijing-based watchdog agencies. In an earlier move in November last year, regulators blocked Ant Group’s IPO, which was expected to raise 37 billion USD, the largest share sale in history. [South China Morning Post] [CNN]

6 April 2021

China: Cinemas ordered to screen movies celebrating the Chinese Communist Party

(dql) China’s National Film Administration has issued a directive calling on all cinemas in the country to screen and enforce viewing of movies celebrating the Chinese Communist Party as part of efforts to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Party’s founding on July 1.

12 films have been selected, dealing with the Japanese invasion during World War II, the subsequent civil war against the Kuomintang government, the Korean War, and the Cultural Revolution era, and focusing on the themes of “loving the party, loving the nation and loving socialism.”  Until the end of year, at least two of these movies must be screened per week. [Variety] [Radio Free Asia]

Meanwhile, a film debuted last week telling the story of three young men, a Uyghur, a Kazakh and a Han Chinese, who come together to pursue their musical dreams. The films depicts Xinjiang as model for successful ethnic integration.

The movie comes amid efforts of Chinese officials and state media to push the government’s narrative about its policies in Xinjiang to counter accusations of forced labor and genocide in the region. These efforts included in 2020 a massive spread of this narrative on American social networks, as researchers at the International Cyber Policy Center of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) concluded in a recently published report on China’s global effort to shape and influence international perceptions of the Chinese Government’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, including through the amplification of disinformation.” [New York Times] [ASPI]

6 April 2021

China: High profile corruption case

(dql) Yin Jiaxu, the former head of China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco), the country’s third largest weapons manufacturer, has been put under investigation for alleged corruption offences. 

Yin is the latest high-level official from the defense industry to be caught in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign that has seen over 1.3 million officials investigated since 2012. 

In January, Hu Wenming, the former chairman of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, who oversaw the development of the Liaoning and Shandong aircraft carriers, had been expelled from the party for taking bribes and abusing his power. [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]

Norinco supplies weapons and equipment to all branches of the Chinese military and armed police force. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), it is the ninth-largest arms company in the world and third largest in China. [SIPRI]

6 April 2021

China: Hong Kong’s prominent pro-democracy figures convicted over of participation in unauthorized demonstration

(dql) Concluding a 20-day trial in February and March, a court in Hong Kong has found seven leading pro-democracy politicians and campaigners guilty of organizing and taking part in an unauthorized march during a massive rally in the former British colony city in August 2019, attended by hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Among the convicted are Jimmy Lai, the owner of the Apple Daily tabloid known for its critical stance towards the Chinese government, and veteran activist Martin Lee, nicknamed “Father of Democracy” in Hong Kong as he was instrumental in founding the United Democrats of Hong Kong in, the city’s first major political party. The other five include lawyer Albert Ho, barrister Margaret Ng, labor rights activist Lee Cheuk-yan and former legislators Cyd Ho and Leung Kwok-hung. 

Sentences will be handed down later, with experts expecting prison terms of 12-18 months while the maximum possible sentence is five years. [Aljazeera] [CNN]

6 April 2021

China hosts four maritime nations for talks

(nd) China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted his counterparts from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, in an effort to counter US diplomatic efforts in the region. The invitation to the maritime nations comes in the wake of renewed tension in the disputed South China Sea. While Japan has signed agreements for the exports of Japanese military technology with Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, the US has increased partnerships with its Southeast Asian partners, and met with the Quad, consisting of the US, Australia, India and Japan. In October last year, Wang already took an intensive trip in the region, inter alia to promote Chinese vaccines.

While China is aiming at positioning itself well with the regional powers, and has an important role to play in mitigating the crisis in Myanmar, the US will also aim to deepen relations, with the ASEAN states looking for stable relations to both powers. [The Diplomat]

6 April 2021

Singapore’s Foreign minister to visit China

(py) Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan recently made a two-day visit to Fujian where he met China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. During the visit, the two have discussed a way forward for post-Covid recovery and the mutual recognition of health certification, which is hoped to enable cross-border travel between the two countries besides the existing “fast lane” scheme for business and official proposes. Dr Balakrishnan also shared Singapore’s concerns over the ongoing bloodshed in Myanmar. Though they both hope for de-escalation and constructive dialogues between the military junta and the people, Dr Balakrishnan and Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed that they should hold fast to the principle of non-interference of domestic matters. 

Singapore’s response to the events in Myanmar is getting louder. Experts pointed out how the statements are using harsher language to describe the situations and actions of the military junta. Some argued that Singapore’s growing concerns were due to the amount of investment in Myanmar, to which Singapore currently is the largest investor. [Reuter] [Channel News Asia 1] [Channel News Asia 2


6 April 2021

Philippines: Chinese vessels remain in the disputed South China Sea, illegal facilities spotted in Philippines’ islands

(ldl) The Philippines confirmed that most of the Chinese vessels that were stationed nearby Whitsun Reef did not depart away from these disputed areas, but rather dispersed across other Philippine islands in the South China Sea. Moreover, four vessels from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) were also sighted at the Panganiban Reef, a Philippine exclusive economic zone. Furthermore, the Philippines also found that several facilities had already been illegally built on some of the areas that Chinese vessels are patrolling around. [Manila Bulletin]

The Philippines continues to demand China leave the area, but China still claims sovereignty over it and has warned Philippine aircrafts and ships against getting any closer. Meanwhile, the Philippines affirmed its commitment to strengthen ties with the United States, with whom the Philippines shares a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). [The Diplomat] [Channel News Asia]

China committed to continue promoting Covid-vaccine cooperation with the Philippines and expressed willingness to work with ASEAN countries to regulate multilateral relations in the South China Sea. However, China’s desire to ‘maintain stability in the region’ probably requires that multiple countries relinquish their claims over the South China Sea. Most recently, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China, less than two weeks after lodging another diplomatic protest. [Manila Bulletin] [Inquirer]

According to Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana, China intends to occupy more territory, given the continued presence of militia in the disputed waters. The Chinese boats were located in the Whitsun Reef, within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone, and sheltering from bad weather conditions, according to Chinese diplomats. This was rebuked by Lorenzana, after 44 vessels were still at the Whitsun Reef despite improved weather conditions. In 2016, an international tribunal dismissed China’s extensive claims to the South China Sea. China does not recognize the ruling and has built artificial islands equipped with radar, missiles batteries and hangars for fighter jets. [Nikkei Asia]

6 April 2021

Malaysian Foreign Minister to clarify remark on China

(nd) Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, during a trip to China, said to his counterpart “You will always be my elder brother”, which prompted widespread criticism of the remark suggesting Malaysia was subordinate to China. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim criticized the minister and urged him to withdraw his remark. Hishammuddin clarified his remark was directed at his counterpart Wang Yi, who was older and more senior, and therefore his personal “elder brother”. He added: “Rest assured that Malaysia remains independent, principled and pragmatic in terms of our foreign policy – founded on the values of peace, humanity, justice and equality. We will continue to contribute meaningfully towards a just and equitable community of nations.”

Hishammuddin’s visit was part of visits paid by Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, who were most vocal about the coup in Myanmar and were seeking for a solution together with China. China and Malaysia have ongoing disputes over conflicting claims in the resource-rich South China Sea. [South China Morning Post]

6 April 2021

South Korea-China relations: Bilateral talks amid Sino-US tensions

(nm) On Saturday, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met in the Chinese city of Xiamen in South Korea’s first ministerial level meeting in China since 2017, signaling an effort to rebuild relations after a fallout over the deployment of the US THAAD missile defence system in South Korea. Both sides agreed on planning new security talks and discussed a possible visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the South. Beijing also called for increased co-operation on trade, high-tech development, and North Korea, as a number of leading Chinese firms were hit by US sanctions. While Beijing voiced support for a China‑South Korea free trade agreement, strengthening 5G technology and other high-tech issues, Seoul’s statement remained more vague, referring to “strengthening substantive cooperation” and “a range of forms of cooperation.” Both sides did, however, express hope to hold a trilateral summit with Japan. Concerning North Korea, they vowed to seek a process for a “political” resolution. 

South Korea has recently seen its geopolitical value rise as it has become a focal point in the competition between China and the United States. Since the new Biden administration is seeking to strengthen its alliances in the Indo-Pacific and as concerns over a nuclear threat by North Korea grow, the South is increasingly seen as a strategic player in the region. Chung has, however, stated the US and China are equally important partners, adding that this stance is anything but “strategic ambiguity.” While the US is considered South Korea’s “sole ally” and the cornerstone of its diplomatic and security policy, China is the country’s largest trading partner. [Korea Times] [South China Moring Post] [Nikkei Asia] [Korea Herald]

6 April 2021

Japan-China relations: Foreign Ministers clash over disputed islands and Xinjiang in telephone talk

(dql) Ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to the US for talks with US President Biden next week, where both leaders are expected to extensively discuss China’s assertive moves in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi held a telephone talk on Monday, which according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry was requested by Beijing.

In the conversation Motegi urged China to address human rights issues concerning the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, as well as to stop its intrusions into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. [Kyodo News]

In response, Wang called on Japan to show “basic respect” for China’s internal affairs and warned Japan against sanctioning China over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Suga has come under pressure to join other major democracies in imposing sanctions on China over human-rights violations, but has thus far shied away from bowing to this pressure. Wang also reiterated China’s stance on the Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea and reminded Motegi of Japan’s obligations to fulfill the 1978 Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship. [CGTN] [Bloomberg Quint]

The phone conversation came shortly after Japan sent a destroyer and patrol aircraft to gather information and monitor the movements a Chinese carrier group – including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, one Renhai class stealth guided missile destroyer, two Luyang III class guided missile destroyers, one Jiangkai II multi-role frigate and one Fuyu class fast combat support ship – which was spotted passing the waterway between Okinawa and Miyako Island and heading towards the Pacific on Saturday morning. [South China Morning Post]

6 April 2021

Cross-strait relations: Taiwan wary of China stealing semiconductor technology

(zh) Taiwan has accused China of stepping up its efforts to steal technology and poach talent from the island’s world-leading semiconductor industry to boost its own industry’s self-sufficiency. The risks of the ‘red supply chain’ – a reference to the color of China’s Communist Party – have increased by the escalating trade war between the US and China as well as Washington’s sanctions on the Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies, said Taiwanese Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua, adding that Taiwan’s chip workers are a “natural target for poaching China has latched onto since they have rich experience and speak the same language.” [South China Morning Post]

Despite attempts from the US and China to boost its chipmaker industry, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics remain the dominating giants in the industry. [Nikkei Asia] reports at least $30 billion per year for a minimum of five years are needed for the US, China, and the EU to have a reasonable chance of succeed in being comparable to Samsung and TSMC, making the goal to competing with TSMC and Samsung “economically unrealistic.”

6 April 2021

UK pushes for hard stance towards China at G7 trade ministers’ meeting 

(zh) G7 trade ministers of the US, Germany, the UK, France, Canada, Italy, and Japan have issued a joint statement pledging collective action to address “harmful industrial subsidies” and other market-distorting practices without directly mentioning China by name. The statement echoed US president Joe Biden’s goal to “build back better” from the pandemic and underscored the commitment to make progress on the World Trade Organization (WTO) reform and issues including climate change and digital economy. [Politico]

UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss, meanwhile, was more outspoken and urged the WTO to “get tough on China,” and to change related rules, arguing that it is no longer justified to designate China as a developing country. She also suggested to tighten human rights clauses in trade agreements. [South China Morning Post]

The UK is currently holding the presidency of the G7 group of nations.

6 April 2021

WHO-China joint inquiry into Covid-19 origins leaves few answers

(zh) A World Health Organization (WHO)-backed joint inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 has given no clear verdict, saying the most probable explanation was that the virus had jumped from animals to humans through an intermediate animal host. The WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called for more research and data access, citing sources telling him that the investigation encountered difficulties in accessing raw data. [Economist][South China Morning Post]

The US and 13 other countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, and the UK have issued a [joint statement] expressing concerns that the investigation was “significantly delayed” and “lacked access to complete, original data and samples”.

In response, the leader of China’s side of the WHO-China team Liang Wannian rebuffed the criticism, saying no scientists had perfect information and the team had “visited all the places, met all the people, studied all the facilities and read all the documents, as they had wished”. [Reuters][Washington Post]


6 April 2021

BBC China correspondent flees China to Taiwan

(zh) Senior BBC China correspondent John Sudworth has fled China and relocated to Taiwan citing legal threats and intense pressure from Chinese authorities over the coverage of sensitive subjects including Covid-19 origins and Xinjiang human rights abuses.  

Commenting on the relocation, BBC said in [twitter] that “John’s work has exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know”. The European Union (EU) has condemned Chinese authorities’ “harassment” to foreign journalists. Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said Sudworth will “feel that Taiwan is a free and democratic nation”, while China’s Foreign Ministry identified a “guilty conscience” over producing “immoral fake news and disinformation” about China as the “only rational explanation” for leaving China so abruptly. [New York Times] [South China Morning Post] [CGTN]

In February, China banned banned BBC World News from broadcasting in the country, a move widely seen as retaliation against British media regulator Ofcom revocation of Chinese state broadcaster China Global Television Network’s (CGTN) licence to broadcast in the UK. [AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3]

Sudworth’s departure is part of a larger exodus of foreign journalists from China, with Taiwan becoming a preferred a destination for these journalists. Since last year, at least 18 foreign correspondents were expelled by China, some of which were framed as retaliation for the Trump administration’s restriction on the number of Chinese journalists working in the US. 39 correspondents and 21 outlets have moved to Taiwan, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and BBC. [Taipei Times]


6 April 2021

China-Canada relations: Ottawa steps up efforts to secure critical minerals 

(zh) Amid the latest tit-for-tat sanctions between China and Canada over accusations of human rights violations in Xinjiang, Ottawa is stepping up efforts to protect supply chains in critical minerals and other industries.

Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne called for more cooperation among the Five Eyes allies – the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada – to coordinate a united front on China, adding that important areas of corporation need to include policies on critical minerals and sensitive technology as well as a ban on Huawei technologies. 

Champagne’s call comes shortly after Canada tightened its foreign investment rules out of national security concerns, allowing for a national security review for proposed takeovers of companies specializing in critical minerals, sensitive personal data, and investments by “state-owned or state-influenced investor”. 

The country’s mining executives and national security experts, furthermore, have warned of China’s domination of strategic mineral supplies, urging the federal government to increase its own strategic leverage against China’s foreign policy tactics by taking advantage of Canada’s abundance of natural deposits of minerals. [National Post][Reuters][Straits Times]

Meanwhile, China’s Consul General in Rio de Janeiro, Li Yang, has dismissed Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “boy” in a tweet, accusing him of turning Canada into “a running dog of the US”. “Running dog” is in Chinese a pejorative term often used to describe a lackey. The outburst came after Canada, along with the US, UK, and European Union imposed sanctions on China for the human abuses in Xinjiang. [The Guardian]

6 April 2021

China-US cooperation on climate change and Iran?

(zh) Scheduled for April 22 and 23 and hosted by US President Joe Biden, China is yet to decide whether to participate in the virtual “Leaders Summit on Climate” almost two weeks after it received the invitation, a long with 38 other countries and the European Union, including Canada, France, Germany, Russia, and the UK. Besides China, other Asian countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Japan, Saudi-Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam. [White House

In its first official response to the invitation, China’s Foreign Ministry last week only confirmed that it is “carefully studying,” the invitation. China’s hesitation to immediately accept the invitation is seen by observers as highlighting China’s problem of exposing itself to expectations of the international community on fulfilling its ambitious climate commitments as well as of finding the balance between cooperation and rivalry with the Biden administration. Last year, China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060, causing both cheers and scepticism over the feasibility to achieve this goal among the international community. [South China Morning Post 1]

Last week, China refused to accept an invitation to take part in a similar meeting on climate change, organized by the UK and attended by ministers from around 35 countries. [BBC]

Meanwhile, the US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry has also expressed his hope to work with China to tackle climate change during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. However, he also made clear that none of the issues US having with China is “held hostage” or “engaged in a trade” for the climate issue. [South China Morning Post 2]

In a separate development, the US has expressed its interest in working with China to curb Iran’s nuclear program, saying Iran is one of the areas for Washington to “narrow tactical alignment” with Beijing. The statement came after China’s foreign minister Want Yi concluded during his recent Middle-East tour a 25-year agreement exchanging China’s 400 billion USD for Iran’s oil supply.  [South China Morning Post 3] [AiR No.12, March/2021, 5]

For critical assessments of climate change becoming the next conflict spot between China and the US rather an area of cooperation, see Deborah Lehr in [The Diplomat] arguing that climate change is “deeply intertwined with the technology competition that now bedevils U.S.-China relations, creating new fronts in the battle over economic power and influence globally.”


6 April 2021

US Department of State’s reports and remarks over human rights in China

(dql) The US Department of State has released its annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” for 2020, criticizing China for a long list of human rights abuses over the past year, with a focus put on Beijing’s “[g]enocide and crimes against humanity …. against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,’ but also addressing increased censorship amid the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to tighten control over Hong Kong. [US Department of State 1]

The release of the report was preceded some days earlier by China’s own assessment of the human rights situation in the US. The report denounced – among others – systematic racial discrimination against ethnic minority groups, police brutality, a record high in gun trade and shooting incidents, incompetent pandemic containment. [Global Times]

In a separate development, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that Hong Kong does not warrant preferential treatment under US law, given that Beijing “has continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, in violation of its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law.” He added that especially Beijing’s adoption and the Hong Kong government’s implementation of the National Security Law “have severely undermined the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong.” [US Department of State 2] For the text of the report, see [US Department of State 3]

Blinken made the remarks after announcing the submission of the US Department of State’s 2021 Hong Kong Policy Act Report to Congress. The Hong Kong Policy Act, enacted in 1992, allows the United States to continue to treat Hong Kong separately from China for matters concerning trade export and economic control after the 1997 Hong Kong handover – including lower trade tariffs and a separate customs and immigration designation, among other differences –, as long as Hong Kong is considered to be sufficiently autonomous. In May 2020, Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo already told Congress that the former British colony did not qualify for the special status. [AiR No. 22, June/2020, 1]

In a related move, the US State Department also sharply criticized the changes to Hong Kong’s electoral systems as recently approved by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress,  condemning them as a move which “further erode[s] political participation and representation in Hong Kong,” and “def[ies] the will of the people in Hong Kong,” and “den[ies]Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance.” It cited for its condemnation particularly the reduction of the number of directly elected members of the Legislative Council (LegCo), Hong Kong’s parliament, and the establishment of a committee to vet candidates for office based solely on their loyalty to Beijing. [US Department of State 4]

30 March 2021

Cross-strait relations: Twenty Chinese military aircraft enter Taiwan air defence identification zone

(dql) Last Friday, twenty Chinese military aircraft – including four nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and 10 J-16 fighter jets, among others – entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, marking the largest incursion since Taiwan’s defence ministry began disclosing almost daily Chinese military flights over the waters between the southern part of Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea last year. [The Guardian]


30 March 2021

Philippines: More demands against China’s vessels in South China Sea

(ll) After years of avoiding provoking China, the Philippines unexpectedly invoked the 2016 Hague ruling which rejects most of China’s claims over the South China Sea. The Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs also cited the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US, which would be triggered if a Philippine state-owned vessel were attacked. Besides France and the US last week, this week Japan, Australia, Vietnam, EU, and Canada have expressed concerns over the remaining 183 Chinese vessels at the South China Sea. [Rappler] [Manila Bulletin 1]

Even though China belittled these concerns, the Philippines has deployed more Navy ships in response to various demands from Filipino diplomats to show force against China. In fact, the Philippine ambassador to Iraq, Generoso de Guzman Calonge, even proposed that the Philippines should install mobile missiles in Palawan, one of the country’s westernmost islands. [South China Morning Post] [Manila Bulletin 2]

Most recently, Philippine security forces are verifying a satellite image, which shows only around 50 of the Chinese vessels left. [Manila Bulletin 3]

30 March 2021

Taiwan-Palau travel bubble strengthens relations

(zh) Palau’s leader Surangel Whipps and his delegation have flown to Taiwan to kick off Asia’s first travel bubble between two ‘Covid-safe’ destinations. Whipps earlier had revealed he rejected China’s offer to switch from diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China after he was elected last November. “I believe that we should be free to choose who our friends are, and nobody should say ‘I cannot be somebody’s friend,” said Whipps. [Taiwan News 1]

The trip to Taipei, however, has prompted a “red line” warning from Beijing as US ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland arrived on the island as part of a delegation from Palau. “The Chinese side resolutely opposes any form of official contacts between US and Taiwanese officials,” said China’s foreign ministry. Hennessey-Niland is the first US ambassador to visit Taiwan in an official capacity since the US cut its ties with Taiwan in favor of China in 1979. [South China Morning Post][Taipei Times][Taiwan News 2]

30 March 2021

Taiwan, US sign MoU on maritime cooperation

(zh) Taiwan and the United States have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish a Coast Guard Group (CGWG), the first agreement signed by two sides since Joe Biden took office. The agreement provides a platform for the two sides to communicate through Taiwan Coast Guard and the United States Coast Guard. The MoU signals Taiwan’s move to counter China’s new coast guard law, which permits the coast guard to use weapons in the waters China claims. [Focus Taiwan][Radio Taiwan International, in Chinese]

Both Taiwan and the US have been increasingly wary of China’s threat to the island. “[T]he problem is much closer us than most think,” said Admiral John Aquilino, the nominee of the US Indo-Pacific Command, in his hearing with the Senate Armed Service Committee, adding China considers establishing full control over the island to be its “number one priority” [CNN].

Meanwhile, in US parliament, the Taiwan Relations Reinforcement Act was reintroduced by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. If passed, the act would change the status of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a de facto US embassy under the name of a government-sponsored non-profit organization, to be “representative”, making their appointment subject to Senate approval. It would also require the US president to establish an “inter-agency Taiwan task force”, comprised of senior government officials who submit an annual report to Congress detailing actions that should be taken to enhance the relations. A nonprofit Taiwan-US cultural exchange foundation would also be set up. The bill was previously introduced in the Senate last October but was not included in the congressional schedule. Besides, the group of seven Republicans and two Democrats has asked Biden administration to set up a preclearance facility at Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan’s main international airport, saying it would “improve the ease of travel between the United States and Taiwan and reinforce the importance of our relationship with Taiwan”. [Bloomberg] [Taipei Times]

30 March 2021

Chinese Foreign Minister’s Middle-East tour

(zh) China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has concluded his week-long tour to the Middle East, with visit to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Oman. As the world’s biggest energy importer, securing oil supply has become the primary goal of China’s diplomacy in the region. But the tour comes at a time when China’s relationships in the region have expanded, to include not only alternative sources of energy, from renewables to natural gas, but other sectors, like financial cooperation and now even vaccine diplomacy. [SupChina] [The Diplomat]

During his first stop in Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud expressed his country’s firm support of China’s legitimate position related to Xinjiang and Hong Kong and opposed any foreign interference. One day before the trip, Saudi Aramco, the Saudi Arabian public oil company, has pledged a 50-year partnership with China in energy. Saudi Arabia is one of China’s biggest suppliers of crude oil. [Global Times] [Arab News]

In Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu conveyed his country’s “sensitivity and thoughts” about Uighur Muslims. About 1000 protests gathered in Istanbul to denounce Beijing’s treatment against Uighur in Xinjiang during Wang’s visit. In December last year, Beijing approved an extradition treaty with Ankara in December which is awaiting ratification by the Turkish parliament. Both ministers agreed to oppose some powers’ attempts to politicize vaccine cooperation and to deepen the vaccine cooperation. Turkey has bought millions of doses of Chinese Sinovav Biotec’s COVID-19 vaccine. [Aljazeera][Reuters 1][Xinhua]

In Iran, the two countries signed a 25-year agreement under which China will invest 400 billion USD in Iran over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of Iranian oil. China also expressed support for Iran in safeguarding its nuclear deal. The deal deepens China’s influence in the Middle East and weakens US efforts to keep Iran isolated. [Reuters 2][Reuters 3][South China Morning Post 1]

In the UAE, Wang and his counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan attended the launch of a coronavirus vaccine production line, joint venture between UAE tech firm G42 and China’s Sinopharm, which aims to supply 200 million doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine, predominantly to the regional market.

Wang fights back Western criticism on its human rights, saying the human rights of a country should be judged only by its own people, not by the citizens of other nations. Two sides have also taken part in the launch of a new Covid-19 vaccine production line in the UAE and agreed to recognize each other’s digital health pass for border entry. Wang also proposed to forge links between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the UAE’s 50-year national development strategy to deepen practical cooperation in energy, finance and high technology. [South China Morning Post 2]

Reflecting China’s growing role in the Middle East, Wang is reportedly also planning host talks between Israelis and Palestinians. China has previously offered itself as an alternative to the United States several times when it comes to mediating the decade-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. [Reuters 4]

30 March 2021

China-North Korea relations: Traditional alliance re-affirmed

(zh) China and North Korea have reaffirmed their alliance during a meeting between China’s senior diplomat Song Tao and North Korea’s new ambassador to China Ri Ryong Nam. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has called for stronger “unity and cooperation” with China in the face of challenges posed by “hostile forces”, while China’s President Xi Jinping described the bilateral relations as a “valuable asset” to both countries. Xi has also expressed the commitment to “provide the peoples of the two countries with better life”, signaling that China might provide North Korea food, fertilized, and other aid that has been considerably reduced due to pandemic closure. [CNA] [South China Morning Post]

30 March 2021

China imposes anti-dumping on Australia’s wine

(zh) China has announced it would impose anti-dumping measures on Australia’s wine imports for five years, arguing that the material damage that China’s domestic wine industry has suffered causally links with Australia’s dumping and subsidies. The decision escalates China’s trade war with Australia that also covers beef, barley, lobsters, cotton, and coal. [South China Morning Post 1]

Australia’s ambassador to Beijing Graham Fletcher added fuel to the fire as he described China as a “vindictive” and “unreliable” trading partner. Earlier, Canberra has said it would request the World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish a dispute settlement panel to investigate whether Beijing breaches free trade rules over its tariffs on Australia’s barley. [South China Morning Post 2] [AiR No.11, March/2021, 3].

30 March 2021

China sanctions US, Canadian, and UK citizens

(zh) Beijing has announced sanctions against two Americans, a Canadian, and a rights advocacy group in retaliation against the sanctions imposed by the US, UK, Canada, and the EU last week over human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang [AiR No.12, March/2021, 4]. The list of sanctions includes two members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Gayle Manchin and Tony Perkins, Canadian Member of Parliament Michael Chong, and a Canadian parliamentary committee on human rights. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on the other hand, has warned the Beijing’s moves were “baseless” and would only draw growing international attention to its “genocide” in Xinjiang. [Guardian][Reuters][VOA]

For the UK, Beijing sanctions 10 UK organizations and individuals, including the former leader of the Conservative party Iain Duncan Smith, for spreading “lies and disinformation” about human rights abuses in Xinjiang. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, meanwhile, said if Beijing wanted to “credibly rebut” the claim it should allow the UN full access to investigate the truth in Xinjiang. [BBC][Guardian] 


30 March 2021

China-US relations: Biden suggests three steps to win “steep competition”

(zh) Speaking at his first press conference as US President, Joe Biden depicted China’s (and Russia’s) challenges to the US in stark terms, describing the current situation as “a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies,” in which the US has to “prove democracy works.” He added that his administration would pursue three core steps to prevail a “steep competition” with China, including as a first step “real investments” in American workers and science, covering medical research, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and biotech. He also said the US will re-establish “an alliance of democracies.” Lastly, he vowed to ensure the US stands up for its values and call the world’s attention to China’s violation of human rights. [CNN][South China Morning Post]

In a related move, Biden suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a phone call shortly after the press conference to develop among democratic countries an infrastructure plan to rival China’s Belt and Road initiative. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, Gen. James McConville, US Chief of Staff of the Army, calls in his recently released strategy paper, titled “Army Multi-Domain Transformation: Ready to Win in Competition and Conflict,” for an American “inside force” to be establish on Chinese soil as foothold that “disrupts the enemy’s area-denial scheme, creating an opening in the foe’s defenses into which US reinforcements can flow.” He adds that ground forces “can defeat sophisticated adversary defensive schemes from inside positions, creating corridors for air, maritime and all-domain forces to exploit.” [Chief of Staff of the Army, USA] [Breaking Defense]

The strategy paper comes amid warnings by high ranking US military officials of an imminent danger of military clash with China.

30 March 2021

China: Advancing military aircraft

(dql) China is reportedly now developing a fourth-generation, carrier-capable stealth aircraft to rival China’s own fifth-generation fighters like the Chinese J-20, the American F-22 Raptors, and the Russian Su-57 fighters. The J-31 fighter is a multi-role, twin-engine, mid-size fourth-generation stealth fighter, designed to provide advanced defense capabilities in close-air support, aerial bombing, and air interdiction operations, while also being able to perform suppression of enemy air defenses. [EurAsian Times]

30 March 2021

Facebook blocked Chinese hackers who target Uighurs abroad

(zh) Facebook has blocked hackers in China who used the platform to target Uighur activists, journalists and dissidents, living abroad, including Turkey, Kazakhstan, the United States, Syria, Australia, and Canada. Two Chinese companies, Beijing Best United Technology Co Ltd (Best Lh) and Dalian 9Rush Technology Co Ltd (9Rush), were found to develop the Android tooling deployed by the hacker group. [Reuters]


30 March 2021

China: Counter-terrorism and sinicization policies in Xinjiang to stay 

(dql) Defying international criticism of China’s treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang and related sanctions against Chinese officials, Wang Yang – the head of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and currently China’s fourth-highest ranked politician who oversees the party’s policies in Xinjiang and national policies on ethnic and religious affairs – made clear that the Chinese government is continuing and deepening its current policies in this region. During his recent visit to Xinjiang, he praised the “consolidation” of efforts to counter terrorism and alleviate poverty and called on officials to strengthen efforts to sinicize Islam and make the religion more compatible with Chinese socialist values. [South China Morning Post]

30 March 2021

China: Reform of Hong Kong’s electoral system endorsed

(dql) The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the top decision-making body of the China’s legislature, has approved a far-reaching overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system. A major change pertains to the composition of the Legislative Council (LegCo), the city’s parliament, whose number of seats will be expanded from 70 to 90. The number of directly elected members will be reduced from 35 to 20 while the number of members from functional constituencies will be lowered from 35 to 30. The remaining 40 members will be chosen by the mostly government-appointed Election Committee (EC), an electoral college whose function is to select the city’s Chief Executive.

Under the new system, the composition of the EC will also change. The number of members will increase from 1200 to 1500. The 117 seats previously given to district councilors – most of whom belong to the pan-democratic or anti-government camp – will be scrapped and replaced by government-appointed positions.

To vet all candidates for the LegCo elections, a new committee will be established, consisting of fewer than 10 members who are to be selected by two agencies overseeing national security – the Committee for Safeguarding National Security under Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and Beijing’s national security office in Hong Kong. [CNN] [South China Morning Post]

Chinese and Hong Kong officials welcomed the reform as “the only measure” to ensure the “principle of patriots governing Hong Kong,” and to “root out the risks of ‘color revolutions’ incited by some external forces and their political proxies, and shake off the endless political disputes and dangerous situation created by radical forces.” [Global Times]


23 March 2021

Philippines: Stand-off over South China Sea reef

(nd) On Sunday, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana demanded about 200 Chinese vessels, presumably militia boats, to leave the Whitsun Reef, which is claimed by both the Philippines and China, and also Vietnam. The Philippines considers it part of their exclusive economic zone. China ignored the call, insisting it owns the territory. The US has backed the Philippines and expressed concerns over the presence of the boats in the disputed waters, accusing China of using “maritime militia to intimidate, provoke, and threaten other nations, which undermines peace and security”. Tension is the waters are on the rise, with a recent Chinese law passed, allowing Chinese coast guard to open fire on foreign vessels. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has had friendly ties with China since taking office in 2016, but in 2020 unexpectedly referred to an international arbitration ruling invalidating China’s historic claims to the entire sea. China has invested in infrastructure funds and trade in the Philippines and has recently donated Covid-19 vaccines amid an alarming spike in coronavirus infections. [South China Morning Post]

23 March 2021

China visas only to those Nepalis getting Chinese covid vaccine

(lm) In a bid to pressure the Nepali government into approving the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu has announced it would provide visa only to those who have been fully vaccinated with China-made COVID-19 vaccines. [Midday]

Though the Nepalese government in mid-February had approved the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by an affiliate of China’s Sinopharm, a lack of proper documentation of trial results and logistic issues had prevented a rollout for larger public use.

Thus, the only vaccine cleared for public use is India’s Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom). Besides China’s Sinopharm two other vaccines – Russia’s Sputnik V and one made by India’s Bharat Biotech – are also awaiting clearance from Nepal’s drug regulator.

Nepal, which has reported just over 3,000 deaths from the pandemic, has attracted vaccine donations from China and India as the pair vie for influence in the country. It also received 348,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the World Health Organization (WHO)’s COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme.

23 March 2021

After inaugural Quad summit, France edges strategically closer to grouping

(lm) Consistent with its 2019 Indo-Pacific strategy to be an ‘inclusive, stabilizing mediating power’, France is stepping up its Indi-Pacific maritime involvement, and is set to participate in two naval exercises in the next month. An amphibious assault ship and a frigate begun a three-months deployment in the Pacific in February – an annual event since 2015 – and will cross the South China Sea twice. [The EurAsian Times

Both ships will be leading France’s maritime Exercise La Perouse, which is expected to take place at the start of April and will be attended by India, the United States, Japan and Australia – all member states of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). After the first meeting of Quad leaders on the weekend, the countries reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific. [Hindustan Times]

Later the same month, the French Navy’s Carrier Strike Group will be joining Indian naval forces to jointly conduct this year’s iteration of their Exercise Varuna in the strategically important Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Notably, the United Arab Emirates for the first time will be joining the drills.

Moreover, seven more Rafale fighter jets supplied by France are expected to be delivered next month, completing the first squadron comprising 18 French omni-role fighters. It is the fourth batch of aircraft arriving in India since the government’s purchase four years ago of a total of 36 planes worth $9.2 billion from French defense manufacturer Dassault Aviation. The delivery of all 36 Rafale aircrafts is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021. [The Economic Times] [Mint]


23 March 2021

Taiwan: Military report prioritizes advancing far-strike capabilities against China

(dql) Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) has released its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), revealing that it will focus on building Taiwan’s far-strike capabilities of its armed forces in the coming years, aiming at effectively extend its defense in depth to delay the advance of a potential Chinese invasion.

To strengthen far-strike capabilities, the report suggests continue ongoing efforts to build more long-distance air-launched missiles and remote-controlled precision weapon systems. It also announces to adopt a “resolute defense and multi-domain deterrence” tactic focusing on defending its forces and annihilating the enemy near the coastline preventing a landfall on the island, while recognizing the need for a high number of small, mobile, and stealthy asymmetric systems for strategic dispersion, taking advantage of the deployment of anti-ship missiles in coastal areas, rapid reaction forces and mine-laying at sea. [Focus Taiwan]

Meanwhile, Taiwanese troops from various units have been mobilized on this Monday to kick off field training exercises as part of the “Combat Preparedness Month,” which started on March 1 and is conducted in four stages, including battlefield scouting, tabletop exercises, field strategy and tactics, and field exercises.

The Combat Preparedness Month was suspended in the 1990s but resumed in 2019 in response to the increased nearby maneuvers of China’s military. [Taipei Times]

In the [Diplomat], Denny Roy warns that while “[p]rospects for an imminent Chinese invasion are overblown,” Taiwan must not be complacent and tackle the problem of limited military effectiveness caused by “unmet recruiting targets, insufficient training of both conscripts and reserves, and ammunition and spare parts shortages.”

Commander of the US Pacific Fleet Admiral John Aquilino, nominated to become commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, however, warned in his testimony before members of the Senate armed services committee that China’s threat to invade Taiwan is serious and more imminent than widely understood, disagreeing with outgoing Indo-Pacom commander Adm Philip Davidson who recently said that China’s attempt to attack and take over Taiwan could come as soon as within the next six years. [The Guardian]


23 March 2021

South Korean and US Foreign and Defense Ministers meet for foreign policy talks

(nm) Last week, South Korea and the United States held their first foreign policy talks since President Biden took office as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III embarked on a two-day visit to South Korea. Both sides stressed the significance of their alliance for the entire region with Blinken calling it the “linchpin for peace, security, and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific region.”

Key topics included the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, cooperation between South Korea, the US, and Japan, as well as the transition of wartime operational control (OPCON). South Korean Minister of Defense, Suh Wook, said his ministry will push ahead to build a strong security relationship with Japan, a particularly notable statement considering current tensions between the two countries and the fact that South Korea seriously considered leaving an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan only last year in protest of export curbs. The US and Korea’s defense ministers additionally agreed to continue joint efforts to transfer wartime operational control to Seoul, although the process might take longer than expected as full military tests are being delayed due to the pandemic. Although they are undergoing a conditions-based, rather than a times-based, transition, President Moon Jae-in hopes to regain military control before the end of his term in May 2022. [Yonhap] [Korea Herald 1]

Together with Moon they then went on to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization and cooperation to counter growing competition from China, albeit not agreeing on a joint rhetoric. While the United States seeks greater cooperation with its allies in the region, especially Japan and South Korea, to combat “unprecedented threats from China and North Korea,” South Korea’s Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong stated “It is unimaginable for us to pick either the US or China.” Seoul finds itself in a dilemma between reliance on the US to rein in aggression from North Korea, while maintaining strong economic ties with China. 

Concerning the growing nuclear threat from North Korea, both sides confirmed their commitment to a complete denuclearization of the peninsula. Blinken again stressed the importance of engaging with partners and allies, but also acknowledged that China “has a critical role to play” in any diplomatic effort with the North, considering that China is the chief financial and political benefactor of the isolated country. Moon is also keen on restarting dialogue between North Korea and the US but struggled to regain relevance in negotiations after the US and North Korea ended their engagement without an agreement in 2019. [Korea Herald 2] [The New York Times, $]

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had however warned the US in Pyongyang’s first direct statement toward the Biden administration after the US-South Korea joint military drills, stating that Washington should refrain from “causing a stink” if it “wants to sleep in peace for coming four years.” She further opened the possibility for military provocation toward the South, declaring she had already reported the options for critical measures to Kim Yong Un. North Korea’s first vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui also said Pyongyang will ignore the US while it keeps its “hostile policy” in place, after Washington had tried to reach out to North Korea but received no response. [The Diplomat] [Korea Herald 3] [38 North]

Blinken also accused North Korea of committing “systematic and widespread abuse,” saying “We must stand with the people demanding their fundamental rights and freedoms and against those who repress them.” The South Korean government, on the other hand, showed itself more reluctant and refrained from calling out the North, stating “We have our concern for that matter but we have a lot to go over first,” and adding “We could see rights conditions improve there while we make progress on building peace on the Korean Peninsula.” [Korea Times] [Korea Herald 4]

After the high-level diplomatic meeting, National Assembly speaker Park Byeong-seug held a videoconference with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday to discuss remaining issues, while the foreign ministry’s director general for North American affairs, Koh Yun-ju, and deputy US assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, Marc Knapper, launched a new regular working-level policy dialogue to discuss diplomatic and security issues. Blinken, for his part, travelled on to Alaska to meet with China’s top two diplomats on Thursday and Friday.[Korea Herald 5] [Korea Herald 6]


23 March 2021

Japan-US relations: Allies agree on concerns over China

(dql/zh) U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Japanese counterparts – Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi – met last week for “two plus two” security talks in Tokyo. The visit to Japan marks the first overseas diplomatic journey for Blinken and Austin as representatives of the new Biden administration and is immediately followed by a visit to South Korea. After four years of relative U.S. inattention to its allies, US President Biden has pledged to rebuild ties with foreign friends, choosing two partners central to Washington’s challenges with a rising China and an increasingly nuclear North Korea. “It’s no accident we chose [South Korea] for the first cabinet-level overseas travel of the Biden-Harris administration, along with Japan,” Blinken remarked when he arrived in Seoul. [Wall Street Journal] [War on the Rocks]

During their meeting the Ministers exchanged and shared common concerns over a range of China’s policies and actions, made public in their joint statement, including human rights violations in Xinjiang, “unlawful maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea” and “unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo” over East China Sea islands disputed between China and Japan. They also agreed on the importance of “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.

Further issues discussed at this meeting included cooperation in the areas of coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and the situation in post-coup Myanmar. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan] [AP]

Coming just a few days before the meeting with Chinese senior foreign policy officials, the visit of Blinken and Austin to Japan and South Korea (see entry below) aims at solidifying the tripartite US-Japanese-South Korean alliance (despite frosty Tokyo-Seoul relations over wartime issues) as part of the global front of the US and its allies envisioned by US President Biden’s to confront China. Blinken reassured Japan of the US commitment to the alliance and vowed that the US “will push back if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.” [Reuters] [VoA]

China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to fiercely reject the Ministers’ joint statement on China “unlawful” claims in the South China Sea, calling it a “malicious attack on China’s foreign policy,” which “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, in an attempt to harm China’s interest.” Furthermore, it called Japan “a strategic vassal” of the US, while asserting China’s “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the adjacent waters.” [Reuters]

An opinion piece in [Foreign Policy] argues that as the strongest US ally in the region, rather than only name and shame, Japan could develop a “more ambitious and flexible toolkit” to address China’s human rights issues and defend liberal values.

23 March 2021

France rebuffs China’s criticism over lawmaker’s Taiwan trip

(zh) China’s ambassador in Paris Shaye Lu has angered Paris for issuing a statement expressing “serious concerns” about the plan of Alain Richard, France’s head of the Senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group, to visit Taiwan in summer, warning the trip would “cause unnecessary interference” in Franco-Chinese relation and send the wrong signal to Taiwan’s pro-independence forces. Richard was reported to be “very displeased” about Lu’s letter. “French parliamentarians freely decide their travel and their contacts,” said France’s foreign ministry.

In defense, China’s embassy in Paris said Lu was “calm and firm”, urging France to abide by the one-China principle. “French senators, as members of a French state institution, should, of course, observe this principle and refrain from any form of official contact with the Taiwanese authorities”. In the latest development, France’s foreign ministry summoned Lu over his “inadmissible” words against French officials and researchers and Beijing’s sanction over EU officials.

Richard has previously traveled to Taiwan in his existing role. This year’s trip aims at studying the island’s successful response to Covid-19. Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang criticized Beijing’s attempt to block exchange between France and Taiwan on Covid-19 only created a bad international impression of China and harm global efforts to fight against the pandemic. Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu on the other hand said China’s “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy is not acceptable to any civilized country. [Focus Taiwan][Reuters][South China Morning Post 1][South China Morning Post 2]

23 March 2021

China-Russia relations: Unity against US

(dql) In a joint statement of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, following the latter’s two-day visit to China this Monday and Tuesday, both called for a summit of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council amid a “time of increasing global political turbulence,” to establish direct dialogue about ways to resolve humankind’s common problems in the interests of maintaining global stability.” Against the backdrop of sanctions of the West against both countries over Kreml critic Alexei Navalny and Hong Kong and Xinjiang respectively, the statement added that “[i]nterference in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs under the excuse of ‘advancing democracy’ is unacceptable.”

While the statement does not mention the US, Lavrov made in a press conference clear who was targeted as he lashed out against the US, highlighting “the destructive nature of U.S. intentions, relying on the military-political alliances of the Cold War era and creating new closed alliances in the same spirit, to undermine the U.N.-centered international legal architecture.” [Reuters] [Deutsche Welle]

To respond to sanctions of the West against their respective countries, Lavrov suggested a disentanglement from the US, as he called for “strengthening the self-reliance of the science and technology industry, [and] promoting settlement by local and other international currencies that can replace the US dollar so as to gradually move away from the Western-controlled international payment system.” [South China Morning Post]

Lavrov’s visit to China comes only a few days of the meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on the one side and Chinese chief diplomat Yang Jiechi and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. He is scheduled to visit South Korea this Thursday, a week after Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met their South Korean counterparts in Seoul. 

23 March 2021

China-Australia relations: Parliament calls for re-considering port lease to Chinese company

(zh) An Australian parliamentary inquiry has urged the government to consider a revocation of the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company. The decision to lease the port in 2015 caused controversy since the port is also a base by the Australian and the US armed forces. A report by the parliament’s joint standing committee on trade and investment growth said the government should investigate whether the lease contravenes the new Foreign Relations Act, which was passed in December and allows the federal government to block international agreements made by universities, councils, and state governments on national security grounds. [South China Morning Post]

The inquiry comes amid the deteriorating relations between the two countries, with Beijing having imposed in trade restrictions on various Australian commodities worth 20 billion USD over the past year in response to a number of actions taken by the Australian government, including a push for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. Earlier this month, Canberra announced that it would request the World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish a dispute settlement panel to investigate whether Beijing breaches free trade rules over its tariffs on Australia’s barley [AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3]. 

In a boost for Australia, the White House’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said the US had told China it would not make any improvement in the bilateral relations while “a close and dear ally is being subjected to a form of economic coercion”, referring China’s trade war with Australia that now covers beef, barley, wine, and coal. In response, the Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne declared that Australia would not “trade away its democratic values to restart dialogue with China.”  [Reuters][Sydney Morning Herald]


23 March 2021

China-EU relations under stress: Sanctions over Xinjiang, warnings against Chinese vaccines and media operations provisions in investment pact

(zh) The European Union (EU) has imposed sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes on four Chinese officials and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Among the sanctioned individuals is Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, who is accused of “arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uighurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief”. It is the first time in more than three decades that the EU is placing sanctions on Beijing following the EU arms embargo in 1989 in the wake of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. While the sanctions are mainly symbolic, they signal a substantial hardening in the EU’s policy towards China.  [Reuters]

In retaliation, China announced sanctions on four entities and 10 Europeans including politicians and scholars, decrying the EU’s move as “based on nothing but lies and disinformation,” which “disregards and distorts facts,” and insisting it would not change its policies in Xinjiang. [Hong Kong Free Press]

In another blow to Sino-EU relations, European Council President Charles Michel slapped the “highly publicized” supply of COVID-19 vaccines from China and Russia, saying that “Europe would not use vaccines for propaganda purposes” and urged European countries not to “be misled by China and Russia, both regimes with less desirable values than ours, as they organize highly limited but widely publicized operations to supply vaccines to others.”

Furthermore, the EU-China investment pact, struck in December between EU and Chinese leaders and now awaiting approval from the European Parliament, has come under pressure as members of the European Parliament have criticized provisions in the deal marking a stark imbalance in rights between European and Chinese investors in the field of media and news operations. Critics argue that while China’s state-controlled CCTV channels are broadcast without hindrance across Europe, European broadcasters are facing restrictions in China, including foreign entertainment programs not being allowed to be shown between 7 pm and 10 pm without special approval and only Chinese cartoons being permitted to be shown between 5 pm and 10 pm. [Politico][VOA]

23 March 2021

China-UK relations: Britain will keep up trade links with its “systemetic challenge”

(zh/dql) The UK announced to strike a balance between defending its security and values against threats from China and cooperating economically with China, as reflected in the recently released “Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy,” the British government’s 10-year defense strategy.

Therein, China is called a “systemic challenge” to the UK’s “security, prosperity and values,” to respond to which the UK would closely work with the NATO and the US. At the same time, the review makes clear that Britain will “continue to pursue a positive trade and investment relationship with China,” and “will also cooperate with China in tackling transnational challenges such as climate change.” [UK Governement]

The review, however, received fierce criticism from the parliament, with Conservative Party lawmakers accusing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government of “going soft” on Beijing. The Tory party, with a cross-party alliance on China, claimed the strategy is “full of contradictions, dual standards and inconsistencies”, pointing out closer trade and economic links contradict the claim that China represents the “biggest state-based threat to the UK.” [Guardian][VOA] Richard McGregor in [Financial Times] describes Johnson’s review as “remarkably blunt”, warning the UK might be the next Australia if Britain sticks with its democratic partners while looking for a new market after Brexit.

In a latest development, the British government has imposed sanctions against four Chinese officials over their involvement in “appalling violations” of human rights against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Sanctions have also been placed on the Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public, a state-owned economic and paramilitary organization vested with administrative authority over several medium-sized cities as well as settlements and farms in Xinjiang and operating under direct control of the central government. [Sky News]


23 March 2021

China-US relations: Bans on Chinese telecom companies and Tesla electric cars

(zh) The US telecom regulator Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it has initiated proceedings to revoke authorization for China Unicom Americas, Pacific Networks, and its subsidiary ComNet to provide telecommunications services within the US, arguing that the companies “have failed at this stage to dispel serious concerns” of the Commission about the companies being “indirectly owned and controlled by the Chinese government.” 

The move comes shortly after the Commission designated five Chinese companies – including Huawei Technologies Co, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corp, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co and Dahua Technology Co. – as posing a threat to US national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting US communications networks. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, China’s government has reportedly restricted the use of Tesla electric vehicles by military staff and employees of important state-owned companies, citing concerns over that data collected over cameras installed on the vehicles could be a source of national-security leaks. [Wall Street Journal]


23 March 2021

China-US relations: US Federal Communications Commission bans Chinese telecom companies

(zh) The US telecom regulator Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it is initiated proceedings to revoke authorization for China Unicom Americas, Pacific Networks, and its subsidiary ComNet to provide telecommunications services within the US, arguing that the companies “have failed at this stage to dispel serious concerns” of the Commission about the companies being “indirectly owned and controlled by the Chinese government.”

The move comes shortly after the Commission designated five Chinese companies – including Huawei Technologies Co, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corp, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co and Dahua Technology Co. – as posing a threat to US national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting US communications networks. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, China’s government has reportedly restricted the use of Tesla electric vehicles by military staff and employees of important state-owned companies, citing concerns over that data collected over cameras installed on the vehicles could be a source of national-security leaks. [Wall Street Journal]

23 March 2021

China-US relations: All quiet at Alaska meeting  

(dql/zh) As widely expected, last week’s meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on the one side and Chinese chief diplomat Ynag Jiechi and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the other, the first high-level talks between US and Chinese officials since Joe Biden came to office, concluded with both sides reassuring their own demands and red lines while reiterating hope of cooperation on issues of common interest.

Following close-door talks on Friday, Blinken confirmed that “significant concerns […] about a number of the actions that China has taken and the behavior it’s exhibiting,” were shared, including Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and Taiwan where both sides are “are fundamentally at odds.” He added that Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and climate change were identified as areas of possible cooperation. In a separate remark made in Chinese media, Yang called the talks “candid, constructive and beneficial,” conceding that “differences between the two sides,” are still there, while vowing that “China will firmly safeguard its national sovereignty, security, and development. [VOA] [Straits Times]

The conciliatory tone in these remarks stands in sharp contrast to the confrontational one during the opening statements on the Thursday. Blinken and Sullivan expressed “deep concerns” over China’s actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, cyberattacks on the US as well as economic and military coercion towards US allies, calling them threats to “the rules-based order that maintains global stability.” In response, Yang called on the US “to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world,” arguing that “[m]any people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States.” He further claimed that the US on some regional issues “has exercised long-arm jurisdiction and suppression and overstretched the national security through the use of force or financial hegemony, and this has created obstacles for normal trade activities, and the United States has also been persuading some countries to launch attacks on China.” [BBC][Guardian][South China Morning Post

Shortly before the meeting, the US had sanctioned additional 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over what Washington sees as Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on dissent in semi-autonomous Hong Kong. The move is widely seen as a response to the recent decision to overhaul the city’s electoral system, adopted recently at this year’s plenary session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and considered by Washington as a “direct attack” on Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic processes. [AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3]

The sanctions were imposed under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which was signed into law by former US President Trump in August last year in response to the Beijing-imposed national security law for Hong Kong. It provides sanctions against officials and entities in the city and mainland China who are deemed responsible for eroding the rights and freedoms in the former British colony.

Among the targeted officials are Wang Chen, Secretary-General of the Standing Committee of the NPC and a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s elite 25-member Politburo, and Tam Yiu-chung, the Hong Kong delegate to the Standing Committee, which drafted the national security law for Hong Kong imposed by Beijing in summer last year.

In response, China’s foreign ministry said “[the sanctions] fully exposed the US’ evil intention to meddle in China’s internal affairs and disrupt Hong Kong”, saying financial institutions under the city’s law will “continue to operate normally and smoothly despite any undue pressure from the US.” [CNN][South China Morning Post]

In a latest development, the US along with the UK and Canada joined the European Union to impose sanctions on four Chinese officials over human rights violations against the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang. In a statement on the coordinated move of the allies, Blinken defended the sanctions arguing that “[a]mid growing international condemnation, the P.R.C. continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.” [New York Times] [CBC]


23 March 2021

Philippines: Residents to oppose the division of Palawan, potentially against China’s interests

(lepl) Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an Act that would split Palawan into three provinces. Last week, opposition Senator Leila de Lima applauded the residents’ opposition to the division of Palawan. Due to its natural resources and its proximity to the West Philippine Sea, the division of Palawan could have benefitted China’s interests of territorial expansion. In fact, the Save Palawan Movement protested that the measure would debilitate the voting power of each province, serving a gerrymandering agenda that endangered Philippine sovereignty. [Manila Bulletin]


23 March 2021

Myanmar: Rising death toll and more international efforts to pressure the military

(nd) Lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) have urged the largest foreign-owned oil and gas companies to suspend business ties with the military regime, saying the money earned will be used to reinforce human rights violations. Per month, Myanmar receives earnings of about US$75 million to US$90 million from oil and gas sales, paid through state-owned company Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). In an effort to cut the junta off these supplies, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), the Burmese government in exile representing the NLD, sent a notice to France’s Total SE, Malaysia’s Petronas, Thailand’s PTT and South Korea’s POSCO, criticizing them for their failure to condemn the coup, and urging them to suspend their tax payments. [Irrawaddy 1]

Also, CRPH is negotiating with Karen National Union (KNU), Restoration Council of Shan State and Kachin Independent Army (KIA) to form a federal army to protect the protesters. They have cleared all ethnic armed groups from the terror list. In light of the growing violence, so far peaceful protesters started to use self-constructed weapons, such as molotov cocktails, and built barricades from tires, bricks or bamboo. [FAZ in German]

Meanwhile, the efforts of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) spreads virally, with a “social punishment” campaign against the families of senior members of the regime. On social media, protesters identified names, addresses and other personal information on relatives of the military generals, and urged people to shun and shame the individuals, and to boycott their businesses. [Frontier Myanmar 1

Four employees of a private bank were detained for allegedly inciting people to join the civil disobedience movement (CDM). [Irrawaddy 2] Due to the ongoing strikes, companies struggle to pay salaries amid closed banks. [Nikkei Asia 1] With an ongoing strike, the military has fired officials from the Foreign Ministry and has pressured banks to reopen in an effort to avoid an economic collapse. [Frontier Myanmar 2]

With the junta using more excessive force, the death toll rose to over 250 and reports of at least 5 cases of torture in detention have surfaced. Internet shutdowns let information spread slowly. Protesters erected barricades in the streets, which were set on fire making Yangon look like a battle zone. [Asia Times 1] In an effort to intimidate citizens, security forces randomly opened fire in residential areas and at individual residences. Shortages of food and drinking water continued, hinting at a looming humanitarian crisis. Adding to internet blackouts, phone services were cut off in some areas. Protesters reported they refrain from forming groups, which are randomly attacked and shot at by the police.

The military continued to target journalists and closed down the last independent newspaper, The Standard Time Daily, following 7Day News, The Voice, Eleven Myanmar, and the Myanmar Times. Private media outlets have been operating in the country since 2013, after the lifting of the ban on independent media since 1962.  [Radio Free Asia 1] Police also continued to raid homes in search of protesters; over 2,000 people have been arrested. [Radio Free Asia 2] To mark the one-month anniversary of the protests, activists organized a car convoy, others lit candles, joined by Buddhist monks. Reportedly, members of the security forces were attacked and died, as well as two policemen during protests. After security forces have occupied more than 60 schools and university campuses in 13 states and regions, Unicef, Unesco, and private humanitarian group Save the Children, issued a statement condemning the occupation of education facilities as a serious violation of children’s rights. [South China Morning Post 1]

Following the attack on Chinese businesses on Sunday, an unsigned editorial, published on the website of state-run CGTN network, suggested that China might be “forced into taking more drastic action” in Myanmar if its interests are not more firmly safeguarded. The editorial added, “China won’t allow its interests to be exposed to further aggression. If the authorities cannot deliver and the chaos continues to spread, China might be forced into taking more drastic action to protect its interests.” China is deeply involved in Myanmar’s economy and shares a 2,200-kilometer border, which is of interest for Chinese infrastructure projects giving it a corridor to the Indian Ocean. [The Diplomat 1] Inter alia, China is extracting minerals in Myanmar, whose shipments have delayed significantly, making a global price rise likely. China controls 80% of the world’s rare earth mineral supplies. [Asia Times 2]

According to experts, the systematic crackdown on the Rohingyas executed by the military since 2017 is just postponed and likely to restart, possibly turning protests into a “prolonged crisis”. Recently hired Canadian-Israeli lobbyist for the junta, Ari Ben-Menashe, said the military want to repatriate Rohingyas. [Voice of America]

Sam Rainsy, exiled Cambodian opposition leader, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Indonesian lawmaker Fadli Zon, Philippine Senator Kiko Pangilinan, former Singapore Deputy Speaker Charles Chong, and former Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya signed a statement urging all ASEAN nations to unite in sanctions against Myanmar and to end impunity. The politicians criticized the “impotence” of ASEAN amid the human rights abuses, and suggested to suspend Myanmar’s membership in the regional bloc. [Benar News]

In some of the strongest comments yet, Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged the violence to stop immediately and to press current chairman of ASEAN, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, to call an urgent meeting. [Reuters] Following Indonesia and Malaysia’s joint push for an urgent high-level meeting of ASEAN, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will visit Brunei, before going to Malaysia and Indonesia. [Channel News Asia]

The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on 11 individuals linked to the coup in Myanmar. The EU already had an arms embargo on Myanmar, and has targeted some senior military officials since 2018. Stronger measures are expected in a move to target the businesses run by the military, mainly through two conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings and Myanmar Economic Corp. [Nikkei Asia 2]

According to Thai media, the Royal Thai Army had supplied 700 sacks of rice to Myanmar army units on Myanmar’s eastern border allegedly on the orders of the Thai government. The commander of the task force denied it and said it was regular trade. Residents told a Reuters reporter the crossing was not a normal trade route. The allegedly supplied army units were cut off by forces of the Karen National Union (KNU), who have pledged allegiance to the protest movement. [Bangkok Post]

Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with violating an anti-corruption law, with a possible prison sentence of 15 years, adding to four previous charges with other offences. [South China Morning Post 2]

The influential, Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Mahana), a government-appointed body of Buddhist abbots, urged the military to end violence against protesters. It was submitted to the Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture. The statement mentioned the CDM, which would greatly benefit from support by Mahana. As a rather conservative organization, the clear cut with the military is significant, according to analysts. It might unleash monastic opposition, which has historic precedents. [The Diplomat 2]

Ousted lawmakers of NLD are exploring if the International Criminal Court (ICC) can investigate crimes against humanity committed by the military since the coup. Following the toughening crackdown, hundred have fled Myanmar to bordering Thailand, which has prepared for a big influx of refugees, as well as to India. [South China Morning Post 3]

23 March 2021

Cambodia: Economic diplomacy and hurdles to take

(nd) Cambodia’s foreign engagement is characterized by a certain ‘economic pragmatism’ — the alignment of foreign policy with economic development interests, referring to it as economic diplomacy. The global economic shift to East Asia was recognized as a good opportunity for Cambodia to develop and modernize its industries, production and services, and to develop infrastructure connectivity. ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea are Cambodia’s key economic partners. Internally, Cambodia strived to economically reform and develop human resources, successfully so with a growth rate of 7% over the past two decades.

Due to democracy issues and human rights violations, the partnerships with the EU and the US are strained, except China. Still, the power asymmetry towards its biggest investor China and its influence pose certain risks. Therefore, the economic diplomacy strategy of 2021–2023 is an important step to further promote trade, investment, tourism and the development of Cambodian cultural identity and shall enhance Cambodia’s international integration, diversify its economic partners, expand its export markets, and attract foreign investors and tourists. It contributes to Cambodia’s vision of becoming a higher-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050. With the Cambodia–China Free Trade Agreement, the Cambodia–South Korea Free Trade Agreement and Cambodia’s participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, it achieved further regional connection.

Amid Covid-19, Cambodia’s economy contracted by 3,1%, forcing it to launch an economic recovery plan as part of a broader effort to build more national resilience towards external shocks. Nationwide, the consensus seems to be that the economic performance is bound to national security. Cambodia will therefore boost healthcare spending, invest in its workforce, and release a digital economy policy framework to take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. [East Asia Forum]

23 March 2021

China: Campaign to intensify combat against illegal Yangtze river sand exploitation launched

(dql) China’s Ministries for Public Security, for Water, and for Transport are joining hands to launch a campaign aimed at boosting sand mining management along the Yangtze River Economic Belt, as well as intensifying the government’s crackdown on illegal sand mining in the river. Measures of the campaign, which is to be run until the end of the year, include the requirement for local governments to set standards for planning and management of sand mining in the river and its tributaries and lakes, along with the introduction of no-mining zones and periods as well as the promotion of intensive and big mining projects instead of dispersed mining. Furthermore, authorities are ordered to strictly enforce the new Yangtze River Protection Law which came into force on March 1 and increased fines for illegal sand mining to a maximum of more than 300.000 USD, compared with the highest fine of some 46.000 USD in the past.

Despite this toughening, police arrested only in March not less than 37 people accused of illegally mining around 2 million tons of sand worth nearly 15 million USD from the Yangtze, indicating how profitable trading sand is. [South China Morning Post]

The economic belt along the 6.300 km-long Yangtze River consists of 11 provinces and municipalities, covers 40% of the country’s population and accounts for more than 40% of the GDP. [CGTN]

As urbanization continues to boom the demand for sand as key ingredient for concrete is rising, too. More than 50% of the world’s population now live in cities, with the United Nations projecting another 2.5 billion to move to urban areas over the course of the next  three decades. For a critical account of the dramatic increase of sand mining in China and across the world over the past two decades, causing serious damage to the ecosystems in the affected regions, see [The Guardian]. 


23 March 2021

China: Anti-corruption fight in Inner Mongolia to be sharpened

(dql) Chinese President Xi Jinping announced to sharpen the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption campaign in Inner Mongolia, following a recent large coal-related corruption case in this autonomous region, involving the province’s former Party chief and illicit money of more than 463 million USD. 

Speaking to Inner Mongolian deputies at the recent plenary session of the National People’s Congress, Xi made clear that the Chinese Communist Party “will go after these people – who use our national resources for bribery, trade power for money by taking advantage of their positions as Communist Party officials and public servants – at all costs and hold them responsible.” He added that the Party “won’t tolerate the old cases once they have been uncovered,” referring to cases older than 2012 when Xi launched his anti-corruption campaign and signaling the Party’s determination to hold officials “accountable for life.” 

Since 2018, over 670 corruption cases related to the region’s coal industry and 960 cadres and officials have been investigated. Inner Mongolia is China’s second largest coal producer supplying the country with around 25% of its coal reserves. Output reached 1 billion tons in 2019. [South China Morning Post] [Global Times]

23 March 2021

China: Women’s rights activist formally arrested

(dql) Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have formally arrested women’s and labor rights activist Li Qiaochu, following her arrest in early February on suspicion of subversion of state power after she posted on social media accusations that her partner, the detained rights activist Xu Zhiyong, and rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi were tortured while in detention. 

For her rights activism, Li recently received the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders of Washington, D.C.-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a non-government organization of domestic and overseas Chinese human rights activists and groups.

Last year, Li spent four months in secret detention before being released on bail. Earlier this year, she published an account of her time in detention, including 24/7 surveillance, constant abuse, and negotiation with authorities over her own medical needs. [South China Morning Post] [Radio Free Asia]

23 March 2021

China: Strengthening data protection on mobile apps and internet content authencity

(dql) In a move to strengthen data protection for mobile app users, China has issued a new regulation to specify what ‘necessary’ personal information mobile apps are allowed to obtain from their users who on their side can refuse to provide data outside those ‘necessary’ information without facing any obstruction in the use of the app. 

The new regulation, jointly released by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the Public Security Bureau (PSB) and the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), applies to 39 types of mobile apps, covering for example messaging, online shopping, payments, ride hailing, short video, live stream and mobile games. It will enter into force on May 1. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, CAC, the country’s central internet regulator, summoned more than ten major Chinese tech companies to inform them about its plans to strengthen efforts to secure authenticity of internet content in the wake of rapid progress in related ‘deep fakes’ technology and voice-based social network. The companies – among them giants like Tencent, Alibaba and TikTok owner ByteDance – were told about on-spot inspections and urged to “strictly abide by relevant laws and regulations, jointly safeguard internet transmission order and create a benign and healthy network ecosystem.” [Global Times]

16 March 2021

Cambodia: CNRP member arrested over Chinese vaccine criticism

(nd) Following the criticism of the European Parliament (EP) and its call to “restore” democracy in the Kingdom, the government and ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) defended the democracy situation in Cambodia.

The EP adopted three resolutions over the human rights situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bahrain and Cambodia. In the case of Cambodia, the EP urged the government to stop harassing, intimidating and charging members of the political opposition, trade unionists, human rights defenders, the media and civil society actors with crimes for “politically motivated reasons”, and to refrain from unnecessary and excessive force against those engaged in peaceful protests.

In return, Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice said that the EP’s action on Cambodia is a “politically motivated” decision, not oriented at human rights or law, and taken on behalf of rights groups. Further, it stated: “The Royal Government of Cambodia is not a colony of the European Parliament” and “Your democracy and respect for human rights are not good yet but you want to guide and discipline other countries”, referring to the injustice of colonial history.

The EP also called on the authorities to null recent sentences against opposition figures in mass trials in absentia, and cited serious concerns over governmental measures and acts of harassment against independent media outlets and journalists. In his response, the spokesman defended the sovereignty of the judiciary. [Khmer Times]

16 March 2021

Cambodia: CNRP member arrested over Chinese vaccine criticism

(nd) A member of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested for allegedly inciting social unrest by claiming that Chinese-made vaccines aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 were unsafe and had caused several deaths. The woman made such statements on her Facebook page, police spokesperson saying it “gravely affected social security.”

It is one in a string of arrests of political opposition and social activists on unspecified charges without a warrant or explanations provided. At least two other CNRP activists were recently arrested for the same reason, as well as environmental activists, NGO members, and Buddhist monks. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had both spoken in favor and against Chinese vaccine, and there have been no confirmed reports in Cambodia of deaths caused by use of the Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine. [Radio Free Asia]

16 March 2021

India likely to block Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE over security concerns

(lm) India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said on March 10 that Indian telecom operators can only source their network equipment from government-approved ‘trusted sources’ post-June 15,2021. Any use of non-trusted products will require the licensee to obtain permission from the designated authority. [The Straits Times]

Citing potential national security risks, the DoT also said it could create could also create a ‘no procurement’ blacklist. While the department is yet to provide further details on the plans, officials say Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE Corporation are likely to feature on the embargoed list. Both companies are under scrutiny for allegedly installing ‘back door’ vulnerabilities to spy for the Chinese government.

Prior to the DoT’s announcement, Indian media reported that Huawei was willing to partner an Indian company in 5G equipment manufacturing – which would include a transfer of technology – to allay Indian security concerns. [ET Telecom]

Notably, Chinese companies are also likely not to be allowed to bid for stakes in India’s national carrier Air India and oil and gas giant Bharat Petroleum Corporation, which are among the state-owned companies New Delhi aims to privatize to achieve its disinvestment target of about $24 billion for the next fiscal year. [CNBC]

Meanwhile, India has begun to fast-track approvals of some of the more than 150 Chinese investment proposals worth over $2 billion it had put on hold after more than 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a military clash in June [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. At the same time, New Delhi is reportedly unlikely to overturn last year’s ban on more than 100 Chinese mobile apps [see e.g. AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1].


16 March 2021

Indonesia’s position between China and the US

Besides achieving more unity in the ASEAN bloc, Indonesia’s effort to find a peaceful solution in Myanmar is also a means to showcase its democratic credentials with the Biden administration, analysts say. ASEAN has recently found itself in a a multi-country power struggle, with China, the US, India and Japan aiming at a greater influence in the region.

Kurt Campbell, the architect of former US President Barack Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’, is now the Indo-Pacific coordinator on the National Security Council. Likely, Indonesia is expected to play a leading role in the region, which Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi assumed with respect to Myanmar, engaging in a so-called shuttle diplomacy, holding talks with regional and international leaders. For Indonesia, the Myanmar coup shall not result in further US-Chinese tensions, having enjoyed more than 70 years of bilateral relationships with both major powers. Despite needing US support amid Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, Indonesia aims to diversify its strategic partners, and does have stronger economic ties with China than the US. Also, Chinese support on infrastructure projects, a key pillar of President Joko Widodo’s agenda, is much higher, being the second largest foreign investor in Indonesia 2020 with a total realized investment of US$4.8 billion. [South China Morning Post]

16 March 2021

China enhances ISTAR capabilities of its border defense troops in Tibet

(lm) Chinese state-owned media revealed on March 5 that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s Tibet Military Command is enhancing the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities of its border defense troops. Video footage show soldiers operating two recently delivered sensor systems at the Xiao border post, which is located near the strategic Bum La Pass, which was used by the PLA in 1962 to invade India during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. [The EurAsian Times] [Janes]

After nine months of fitful progress to resolve their high-altitude border stand-off, India and China last month completed the pull-back of troops from the southern and northern shores of Pangong Tso, a glacial lake at 4,242m. [AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]


16 March 2021

China-Kenya relations: Afristar’s railway operation ends

(zh) Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) has announced it has successfully negotiated to terminate its contract with Chinese firm Africa Star Railway Operations Company (Afristar) for the operation of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) and will assume SGR operation by May 2022. Under the initial contract, Afristar was awarded a 10-year operation and maintenance contract for the 592km SGR by KRC in 2017 but with revision or termination of the contract every five years.

The contract for Afristar to run SGR is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, the East African country has found itself trapped in the debts for SGR as the railway failed to meet passenger and cargo volume targets and now is further hit by the economic downturn brought by the pandemic. Earlier, Kenya’s parliament had warned that SGR could be forced to halt operation after KRC defaulted its $350 million payment to Afristar and had suggested renegotiating the debts and the terms of payment. [Africa Report][IRJ][South China Morning Post]


16 March 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Kuomintang heavyweights abandon ‘one country, two systems’

(dql/zh) Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou of the Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has critically commented on China’s push for an electoral reform in Hong Kong, arguing that with the reform the ‘one country, two systems’ formular which China’s upholds for a future re-unification with Taiwan has “officially passed into history”. His remark reflects growing development over the past years within the traditionally Beijing-friendly KMT to distance itself from Beijing. [Hong Kong Free Press]

Similarly, KMT chairman Johnny Chiang made clear in an interview earlier this month that “one country, two systems” has no market in Taiwan citing Taiwanese citizens’ appreciation of their freedoms. [Reuters]

Speaking at the National People’s Congress plenary session, China’s Premier Li Keqiang, however, insisted that only on the basis of the one-China principle and the ‘1992 Consensus’, Beijing welcomed dialogue with “any political party or group from Taiwan.”

Official exchanges between Taipei and Beijing have been suspended since pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen came to office and since then consistently refused to embrace ‘1992 consensus,’ to eventually to declare in 2019: “As president of the Republic of China, I must solemnly emphasize that we have never accepted the ‘1992 Consensus.’ The fundamental reason is because the Beijing authorities’ definition of the ‘1992 Consensus’ is ‘one China’ and ‘one country, two systems.’ […] Here, I want to reiterate that Taiwan absolutely will not accept ‘one country, two systems.’

For an interpretation of Tsai’s recent reshuffle in leadership positions in Taiwan’s defence and security team, see Corey Lee Bell who argues in the [Strategist] that the decision to appoint Chiu Kuo-cheng, a former director of the National Security Bureau, as new defense minister is a response to China’s “unrestricted warfare,” which has “confounded the conventional dichotomy between kinetic and information warfare.”


16 March 2021

China-Canada relations: Trial of two Canadians for alleged espionage soon to begin

(zh) China will reportedly soon hold the first trial for the two Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been detained for two years on espionage charges. Canada said it is deeply concerned by China’s arbitrary detention and was “not aware of any set timeline for the trials.”

Canada claims that the detention of its two citizens is a retaliatory response of China to Canada’s detention of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, on request of the US which accuses her of misleading British HSBC Holdings about the Chinese tech giant’s business dealings with Iran, which is under US sanctions. China has consistently denied any linkage to Meng’s detention. [CNN][South China Morning Post] 

16 March 2021

China offers vaccines to IOC

(zh) China has offered to provide the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with vaccine doses for participants of this year’s Tokyo Olympics and the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. IOC President Thomas Bach confirmed the offer which marks a victory for China’s vaccine diplomacy.

Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa, meanwhile, declared that Japanese athletes at the Tokyo Games will not be eligible for Chinese vaccines as Japan has not approved them.

China’s offer to the IOC comes amid calls for boycotts of its Winter Games in 2022 in protest of Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang. [CBC][Guardian][Reuters]

16 March 2021

China-Russia relations: Deepening ties

(zh) Reflecting Russia’s growing strategic alignment with China, Russian space agency Roscosmos signed an agreement with its Chinese counterpart, the National Space Administration, to set up an International Scientific Lunar Station “with open access to all interested nations and international partners.” 

The move is also a rejection of the NASA’s invitation for Russia to join the Artemis project, the U.S. government-funded international human spaceflight program that aims to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, and to explore the lunar surface more thoroughly than ever before by employing advanced technologies. International partners include the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the Australian Space Agency (ASA), the UK Space Agency (UKSA), the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA), the State Space Agency of Ukraine, and the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB).

China’s ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui, meanwhile, declared that China is willing to maintain regular communications with Moscow about their respective US policies, while calling Sino-Russian military cooperation between two countries an “important pillar” of the two countries’ relationship and an “important safeguard” in maintaining strategic balance of the world.

Earlier this month, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged both sides should jointly fight against “color revolutions” and “set a model” in supporting each other and “building strategic mutual trust.” [CNBC][South China Morning Post] [AiR No.10, March/2021,2]

16 March 2021

China, Russia, Iran, North Korea form coalition to push back against unilateral force, sanctions

(zh) China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and 13 other countries – including Algeria, Angola, Belarus, Bolivia, Cambodia, Cuba, Eritrea, Laos, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines, Syria, and Venezuela – have formed a coalition to foster “the respect to the purposes and principles enshrined in the UN Charter,” including “non-interference in the internal affairs of States, peaceful settlement of disputes, and to refrain from the use or threat of use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.”

The move comes as US President Biden has abandoned his predecessor’s ‘America First’ unilateralism and sought a more multilateral approach to global affairs. However, he has still maintained sanctions already in place against Venezuela, as well as against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria and other countries of the group. [Reuters] [Newsweek]

16 March 2021

China accuses Australia of violating human rights at offshore detention centers

(zh) China has said it is “deeply concerned” by the Australian government’s operation of offshore detention centers and has called for the sites to be closed immediately. In a statement reported to the UN Human Rights Council, China alleged the detention centers “fall short of adequate medical conditions” and violate the human rights of a large number of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who are detained there.

The accusation comes amid highly strained relations between the two countries, which begun to sour in 2018 when Australia became the first nation to ban Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei from its 5G network and worsened after Canberra in 2020 demanded an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.  Beijing retaliated with restrictions on imports of Australian beef, barley, wine, and coal. [Guardian 1] [CNN]

In a latest development, Canberra has reiterated its concerns over the delay of clearance of 40 ships carrying coal of Australian origin. Australia’s Trade Minister Dan Tehan also announced that Canberra would request the World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish a dispute settlement panel to investigate whether China breaches free trade rules over tariffs that wiped out Australia’s barley trade with China after the two sides had failed to reach a consensus. The request comes after Tehan’s invitation for his Chinese counterpart to kick start the discussion on the trade dispute was left un-responded. [Guardian 2][Sydney Morning Herald] [AiR No.6, February/2021, 2]

16 March 2021

China-US trade relations: Biden administration imposed more restrictions on Huawei’s suppliers

(zh/dql) In a move further deepening the US-Sino technology conflict, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated five Chinese tech firms as posing an “unacceptable risk” to national security. Among them is telecommunication giant Huawei, on which – in a separate development – the Biden administration added new 5G license restrictions on previously approved export licenses, prohibiting the export of components including semiconductors, antennas, and batteries that can be used with 5G devices. [Deutsche Welle] [South China Morning Post]

Earlier this month, in response to an email cyberattack that Microsoft attributed to China-sponsored group Hafnium, the Biden administration announced to form the Unified Coordination Group (UCG) task force, a multi-agency effort including FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), to deal with the attack. The White House said the US was “undertaking a whole of government response, calling the hack “an active threat” and urged “network operators to take it very seriously.” Beijing has denied its role in the attack. [BBC 1][BBC 2][CNN]

16 March 2021

China-US diplomatic relations: Low expectations for first high-level meeting under Biden administration

(dql) China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet in Anchorage, Alaska, this Thursday, the first meeting of senior American and Chinese officials since President Joe Biden took office on January 20. 

While a wide range of issues will be discussed, expectations towards this meeting are low, given that both sides are well aware of the other’s demands and red lines. Furthermore, the meeting is viewed differently. While the Chinese Foreign Ministry described it as a “high-level strategic dialogue,” signaling China’s hope for a dialogue mechanism to be set up subsequently, Blinken made clear that on Washington’s side there was “no intent at this point for a series of follow-on engagements,” adding that those “engagements, if they are to follow, really have to be based on the proposition that we’re seeing tangible progress and tangible outcomes.” [South China Morning Post] [Heritage]

In addition, Blinken reiterated accusations against China of “coercion and destabilising behaviour” during talks between US and Japanese foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo on Tuesday and vowed that the US “will push back if necessary when China uses coercion and aggression to get its way”. [Aljazeera]


16 March 2021

China-US relations: Chinese military called on to prepare for “instable and uncertain security condition” and “high-risk phase”  

(dql/zh) Chinese President Xi Jinping in a speech at a panel discussion attended by representatives of the armed forces during the annual session of the NPC, expressed far-reaching expectations towards the country’s military which he heads in his capacity as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party. Stressing that China is currently under a “instable and uncertain security condition,” he called on the military to “prepare to respond to any kind of complex and difficult situation at any time, to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, and to provide strong support for the building of a socialist modernized state.” [Xinhua, in Chinese]

More pronounced, China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe described China’s current security situation as “high-risk phase,” and warning China to “comprehensively strengthen training and preparedness for war and improve the strategic capability to win over strong enemies.” With regards to the US, he made clear that “[c]ontainment and counter-containment will be the main theme of bilateral ties in the long term.” Wei made these remarks in a press conference on China’s new defense budget for 2021, amounting to 208 billion USD, a rise of 6.8% compared to 2020. [Bloomberg]

The head of US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral Philip Davidson, meanwhile, in his testimony before members of the Senate Armed Services Committee described China as “the greatest long-term strategic threat to security in the 21st century,” in response to which the US “absolutely must be ready to fight and win should competition turn to conflict.” He called Guam and Taiwan potential next targets of China’s external aggression and called on lawmakers to support continued weapons sales to Taiwan while pushing for the installation of an Aegis Ashore missile defense facility on Guam as part of the US Pacific Deterrence Initiative for which the US Indo-Pacific Command recently submitted a request of 4.6 billion USD additional spending for 2022. [South China Morning Post] [VoA][AiR No.10, March/2021, 2]

16 March 2021

SIPRI international arms transfers report 2020

(dql) According to the 2020 international arms transfers report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), released last week, the US remains the world’s largest arms supplier in 2016-2020 accounting for 37% of the global arms exports, followed by Russia (20%), France (8.2), Germany (5.5%) and China (5.2%). Together, these five countries accounted for 76% of all exports of major arms. Besides China, Asian countries listed among the top 25 countries which accounted for 99% of global arms exports include South Korea (2.7%, ranking at 7), the United Arab Emirates (0.5%, 18), and India (0.2%, 24)

Against the backdrop of the US-China rivalry, the US allies Australia (accounting for 9.4% of US arms exports), South Korea (6.7%) and Japan (5.7%) were among the five largest importers of US arms.

23 Asian countries were among the 40 largest importers including Saudi-Arabia, India, China, South Korea, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iraq, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Oman, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Jordan, the Philippines, Azerbaijan, Myanmar, Taiwan, and Malaysia. [Reliefweb]

16 March 2021

Myanmar: Rising violence in crackdown on protesters

(nd) Last Wednesday, according to documents shared with the US Department of Justice, the military hired an Israeli-Canadian lobbyist to “assist in explaining the real situation” of the army’s coup to the United States and other countries. He is supposed to be receiving $ 2 million, which could be in violation of imposed sanctions. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council failed to agree on a statement to condemn the coup, call for restraint by the military and threaten to consider “further measures,” due to amendments to a British draft proposed by China, Russia, India and Vietnam. [Channel News Asia 1]

Following Myanmar Now, the offices of media outlets Mizzima and Kamaryut Media were raided last Tuesday. In its intensifying crackdown on the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), the military started to target striking railway workers. [Asia Times] Meanwhile, Ba Myo Thein, the second NLD official, died in police custody. [Channel News Asia 2

According to a leaked document on social media, a Chinese delegation held an emergency meeting with home affairs and foreign ministry staff in late February, asking the military to upgrade security for its pipeline projects amid rising anti-Chinese sentiment across the country due to its defense of the regime. Additionally, the delegation asked the military regime to pressure media to help reduce skepticism towards China. At least two officials have been detained over the leak. [Irrawaddy 1] In response to that and due to China’s role in blocking a resolution of the UN Security Council, protesters started a campaign boycotting Chinese imports as well as issuing threats against a major Chinese energy pipeline and port, which are part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a key component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, providing an ocean access. [Radio Free Asia 1] Over the weekend, Chinese-run factories were set on fire by protesters, further accusing China to support the military, which prompted the military to impose full martial law over parts of Yangon. For urging security forces to better protect Chinese business interests, despite further deadly crackdowns on protesters, China faced harsh criticism, further fueling anti-Chinese sentiment. [Irrawaddy 2]

Overall, the actions of security forces grew even more violent, killing with direct shots in the head or critical areas, such as the abdomen, and many teenagers among the deceased, whose toll rose to 183. Medical personnel and international journalists were among the almost 2000 arrested. More strategically, civil and digital infrastructure is destroyed, on top of the already imposed internet blackout from 1am to 9am, the military also imposed a 24-hours shutdown of mobile internet service in an attempt to cut off lines of communication among protesters. [Radio Free Asia 2] According to the UN food agency, prices for food (20-35%) and fuel (15%) rose significantly since the coup. [Reuters]

According to a report by human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI), the military is deploying army divisions notorious for atrocities to deliberately escalate violence against protesters. Videos published by AI showed troops using military weapons inappropriate for policing, like automatic rifles, indiscriminately spraying live ammunition in urban areas, and even making a sport of shooting protesters, some amounting to extrajudicial executions. [Radio Free Asia 3]

Last Wednesday, the military in accordance with its governing body, the State Administrative Council (SAC), removed the ethnic armed group, Arakan Army (AA), from its list of terrorist groups. Only in March 2020 was the AA labelled as a terrorist organization. The AA intensified fighting from November 2018 to early November 2020, with hundreds of fatalities and more than 200,000 residents displaced due to the conflict. In an effort to establish national peace, the military held two rounds of talks with the AA since November 2020, enabling military resources to be concentrated elsewhere. [Irrawaddy 3]

The acting administration of the Committee Representing the National Parliament (CRPH), a group of MPs mostly National League for Democracy (NLD) party, has started to set up a public administration program establishing local councils. Also, CRPH has put itself at the head of the CDM to support inter alia fired civil servants. With its announcement to abolish the 2008 constitution, which gives extraordinary power to the military, CRPH reached out both to civil society leaders and ethnic political parties and armed groups, aiming to build a broad coalition. A next step would be seeking support from Western governments. [Asia Times] CRPH also announced to back a “revolution” ousting the military government. [Radio Free Asia 2]

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has announced that it will put on hold funding for Myanmar government development projects in various sectors. Between 2013 and 2019, the ADB funded projects worth more than US$3.5 billion. [Irrawaddy 4]

UN-appointed Special Rapporteur Thomas Andrews said Thursday, given the systematic and brutal action by the military against peaceful protesters, they are likely to meet the legal threshold for crimes against humanity, reinforcing that the people of Myanmar needed the help of the international community now. [UN News] The US government announced that Myanmar citizens would be able to remain inside the United States under “temporary protected status”. The protection is usually set for a limited period, but can be extended if the hardships or threats like political upheavals or natural disasters making returns difficult remain. [South China Morning Post 1] In the latest Quad meeting, leaders of the United States, India, Australia and Japan vowed to push to restore democracy in Myanmar. [South China Morning Post 2] ASEAN nations are increasingly urging the junta to hold a dialogue with protesters to find a peaceful solution and refrain from further violence. Many herald an intensification of violence over the Armed Forces Day on March 27, a holiday that commemorates the 1945 uprising against Japanese occupation forces led by Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father. [Nikkei Asia]

Adding to her charges, ousted state council Suu Kyi was accused of accepting bribes amounting to $600,000 in payments and gold bars while in office. [Radio Free Asia 3] In an effort to delegitimize the coup legally, scholars debated whether junta-appointed president Myint Swe cannot legally be President. According to section 59f of the Constitution, the office of president or vice-president cannot be held by a person with a foreign citizenship, or if their spouse, children, or children’s spouses are citizens of a foreign country. Allegedly, Myint Swe’s son-in-law holds an Australian passport. The section is infamous because it prevented Suu Kyi from becoming President in 2015 due to her deceased husband’s British nationality. [The Diplomat]

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) carried out an attack on a military outpost in Kachin State on Thursday. Before the coup, there were few major clashes between the two, who were in the process of negotiating a ceasefire. While the military’s governing body, the State Administrative Council, announced to continue the peace process with ethnic armed organizations, the KIA said it supported the protesters and refused to recognize the military regime. KIA urged the military not to use live rounds and threatened to take revenge for the death of protesters. [Irrawaddy 5]

16 March 2021

China: Prominent human rights lawyer returns home after being prevented from accepting US human rights award

(dql) Wang Yu, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, returned home to Beijing after she went missing following an announcement that she was among those women to receive the “International Women of Courage Award” of the US government for advocating human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment. [VoA]

Back in Beijing, Wang revealed that she and her husband were stopped from returning to Beijing by police officers who followed by them 24 hours a day from Sunday to Friday, preventing her from virtually taking part in the award ceremony. 

Wang was the first lawyer caught in a nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists in 2015, which critics said was an attempt by Beijing to stymie China’s emerging rights defence movement.

She was later charged with inciting subversion of state power, and was released in 2016 following a confession. Since then, she has continued to take human rights cases, the latest of which was the case of a 21-year-old Chinese who was sentenced to 14 years in jail last December after posting personal information about President Xi Jinping’s family online. [South China Morning Post] [Radio Free Asia]

16 March 2021

China: NPC approves reform of Hong Kong’s electoral system 

(dql/zh) Last week, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a consultative body of some 2.000 representatives from various sectors of Chinese society, and the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s legislature, concluded their annual week-long plenary sessions. Referred to in Chinese as the ‘two sessions’ and gathering more than 5000 of the country’s political, business and social elite, the sessions are held to discuss and formally decide nation-level policies. 

Among the major decisions was the NPC’s approval of a resolution to substantially reform Hong Kong’s electoral system, to secure what the resolution calls “the administration of Hong Kong by Hong Kong people with patriots as the main body.”

One reform measure is raising the number of the city’s Election Committee from 1.200 to 1.500. The Committee is the electoral college in charge of selecting Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, the city’s leader. According to the adopted resolution, the additional 300 will be “Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress, Hong Kong members of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and representatives of Hong Kong members of the relevant national organizations.” With delegates of these bodies predominantly being of delegates of the Chinese Communist Party, this change is widely seen as a move to bolster Beijing-loyal forces against any potential opposition in the Committee.

A second significant change is the establishment of a vetting committee vested with the power to review and disqualify candidates for the Committee, the post of the Chief Executive, and the Legislative Council (LegCo), Hong Kong’s parliament, if deemed insufficiently ‘patriotic’. The vetting committee will largely consist of Electoral Committee members as well as deputies to the NPC and the CPPCC.

The LegCo will also be expanded to 90 seats from currently 70, including the novelty that a part of members will be elected by the Election Committee, in addition to those traditionally elected on the basis of functional constituencies and of geographical constituencies through direct elections. It has been speculated that not less 40 seats will be allocated to the Committee, reducing functional constituency seats and geographical constituency seats to 30 and 20 respectively. [China Law Translate] [South China Morning Post]

Government and party officials welcomed the resolution as a necessary and effective measure to close the loopholes in Hong Kong’s political system, which according to them have been exploited by local and foreign anti-China forces to foment and carry the massive protest movement in 2019. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam thanked the central government for having exercised its constitutional powers to lead the electoral reform, vowing that her government will fully cooperate in amending relevant laws as stipulated in the resolution. [Global Times] [China Daily]

For critics, the electoral reform signals Beijing’s latest effort to further rein in Hong Kong’s civil liberties and crack down on political opposition camp, following Beijing’s imposition of the national security law for Hong Kong in summer last year, under which currently some 50 opposition lawmakers and activists are charged with sedition facing sentences up to life imprisonment. [Deutsche Welle] [Radio Free Asia] [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief] [AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]

In an immediate response, Hong Kong democracy activists issued a letter, calling it the 2021 Hong Kong Charter and accusing Beijing of further “annihilat[ing] the democratic elements,” in the former British colony and condemning the resolution as “the last nail in the coffin for ‘One Country, Two Systems’.” [2021 Hong Kong Charter] [New York Times]

Foreign Ministers of the Group of Seven expressed concerns over the change in the city’s electoral system, calling on Beijing to “restore confidence in Hong Kong’s political institutions and end the unwarranted oppression of those who promote democratic values and the defense of rights and freedoms.” More specifically, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab accused Beijing of breaking the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, adding that the electoral reform follows a “pattern designed to harass and stifle all voices critical of China’s policies”.

The European Union, Australia, and New Zealand all jumped on board to express concerns over Hong Kong’s situation. Earlier, the US condemned the change as a “direct attack” on Hong Kong’s autonomy. [Guardian 1][Guardian 2][Reuters]

China’s ambassador to US Cui Tiankai argued that the concerns over Hong Kong are “completely unnecessary”, saying “the principle of ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’ does not mean that we will drive out diversity. ‘Patriots’ covers a wide scope, and we have always been broad-minded towards those with different political opinions.” [South China Morning Post]


9 March 2021

US to bolster deterrence in South China Sea

(nd) As part of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative that the US Indo-Pacific Command has submitted to Congress, the US plans to upgrade its regular deterrence against China with a network of precision-strike missiles along the so-called first island chain, and integrated air missile defense in the second island chain. The first island chain describes land features in the western Pacific stretching from Japan, to Taiwan, and through Philippines and Indonesia in the South China Sea. The second island chain is located further to the east, starting in Japan and running through Guam. An estimated around $27 billion will therefore be invested through fiscal year 2027. The bill suggests to modernize and strengthen the presence of US forces, improve logistics and maintenance capabilities, carry out joint force exercises and innovation, improve infrastructure to enhance responsiveness and resiliency. The amount is a 36% increase over the planned spending, showcasing the level of alarm with respect to Chinese activity in the South China Sea, aiming to avoid a permanent change of the status quo.

With respect to the implementation of the plan, China objected earlier against the US to place missiles in allied countries, e.g. South Korea. According to a Japanese defense white paper, the US has about 132,000 troops stationed in the Indo-Pacific. China’s military renewal is ongoing, holding a diverse missile arsenal. China holds about 1,250  ground-based, intermediate-range missiles, while the US has none due to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned the development of ground-based missiles with ranges between 500 km and 5,500 km until 2019. The Chinese arsenal makes the traditional Navy and Air Force centered US approach less feasible, and the deployment of intermediate range missiles in the Indo-Pacific a subject of discussion between the US and Japan. Right now, none of the US’s missiles in Japan could reach China, and deploying weapons there could lead to diplomatic tensions. About 55,000 US troops are stationed in Japan, forming the largest contingent of American troops abroad. [Nikkei Asia] [Radio Free Asia]

9 March 2021

Sri Lankan health authorities yet to approve Chinese COVID-19 vaccine

(lm) Sri Lanka continues to find itself in the midst of a diplomatic tug of war between India and China, which revolves around free consignments of COVID-19 vaccines [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]. On March 3, China offered afresh to donate 600,000 doses produced by its state-owned company Sinopharm for the second phase of COVID-19 vaccination. However, Sri Lankan health authorities have so far refused to approve the vaccine, saying Sinopharm had not submitted papers relating to phase three trials. [The Hindu Business Line]

Late last month, Sri Lanka ordered 13.5 million doses of India’s Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom) in addition to the 500,000 doses gifted by New Delhi earlier. For the second round of vaccinations, Colombo will also receive another 1.69 million doses from Covishield under the COVAX initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO). [WHO]

Meanwhile, health authorities on March 4 approved the Sputnik V vaccine, which was developed by the Russian Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, making it the second jab available in Sri Lanka. [Reuters]

9 March 2021

China offers $1.1 billion to Sri Lanka under loan and currency swap facility

(lm) China will endorse a $500 million loan and a currency swap facility worth $600 million to Sri Lanka within the next couple of weeks, local news reported on March 5, after Colombo late last month had made public its intentions to seek $2.2 billion from Chinese banks to avoid a serious foreign exchange crisis. [News First] [WION]

Leading up to 2021, several rating agencies downgraded Sri Lanka’s sovereign credit ratings, indicating concerns about Colombo’s ability to fulfill foreign debt repayments. At the end of January, then, Colombo’s foreign reserves plummeted to $4.8 billion, the lowest since September 2009.

Besides imposing import restrictions, to manage its foreign debt problem Sri Lanka has mainly relied on currency swaps, largely obtained from India. Colombo obtained a $400 million currency swap facility from Reserve Bank of India (RBI) last June [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]. However, the RBI this February refused to provide the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) a further extension of the facility saying that the rollover would require Colombo having a successfully negotiated staff-level agreement for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2].

9 March 2021

China, Pakistan reiterate commitment to China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor

(lm) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized on March 2 Beijing and Islamabad should continue to support their China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) and expand their strategic partnership. Wang made the remarks during a video call with his Pakistani counterpart, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, which was made to mark the 70th anniversary of the countries establishing diplomatic relations. [South China Morning Post]

Launched in 2013, the CPEC is part of Beijing’s international infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Though often valued at $62 billion, only about $25 billion worth of CPEC projects have so far been developed, giving rise to concerns that the alliance has been exacting on Pakistan’s resources, people and international reputation. [Politico]

To keep the narrative of continued progress alive, Pakistan’s Cabinet Committee on CPEC recently directed the relevant ministries to improve the pace of work on CPEC projects [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]. Beijing, in turn, the same month proposed a joint parliamentary oversight committee to strengthen its hold over the speed and quality over the implementation of projects under the CPEC [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1].

9 March 2021

China installing a missile base near border with Vietnam? 

(dq) Following satellite images, China is believed to build a surface-to-air missile base 20 kilometers from its border with Vietnam, as a long-term precaution and near-term warning to neighboring countries. [VoA]

9 March 2021

China-Japan relations: Tokyo considering sending in troops to deal with Chinese coast guard in disputed waters

(dql) Following recent increased activities of Chinese coast guard vessels in the contested waters near the Japanese-controlled Diaoyu Islands, known in Japan as the Senkakus, Japan is considering to send its armed forces there, with Japanese official stressing that domestic law allows the self-defence forces to weapons as law enforcement against unlawful activities on behalf of Japan’s coastguard in case China’s coastguard enters Japan’s territorial waters without permission. [South China Morning Post]

The statement comes after China recently enacted a law permitting China’s coast guard to use weapons against foreign ships that Beijing sees as illegally entering its waters. After the law came into force on February 1, the frequency of Chinese coastguard vessels entering the waters has risen from twice a month last year to twice a week in February, raising Japan’s security concerns. [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]

9 March 2021

China-EU relations: Chinese Foreign Minister vows to live up investment deal commitments

(zh) Amid uncertainty whether the China-EU investment deal agreed on in December will be ratified by the European Parliament due to concerns over labor rights and forced labor in China, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi reassured “that China is committed to fulfilling every commitment in the deal, including efforts to sign related items of international labor conventions.”

He also stressed China’s support for the EU to pursue more strategic autonomy. “The question of China hoping to divide US-European relations does not exist,” Wang said, “China is willing to see the EU strengthen its strategic autonomy, uphold multilateralism and devote to major power coordination and cooperation.” [South China Morning Post]

Wang’s remarks come as Beijing has been working hard to deepen its relations with Europe amid high tensions with the US. Last year, China surpassed the US as Europe’s largest trading partner. [AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3] But China-EU tensions have also simmered over China’s human rights records in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and amid Brussel’s accusation of Beijing dividing Europe as well as growing dissatisfaction among Central and Eastern European countries over their cooperation with China. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post 2] [Sydney Morning Herald]

For a critical account on the EU’s China policy, see Stuart Lau in [Politico] who points to the problem that while “China has a plan,” and tells the EU “where it’s going to go,” the China policy of the EU “remains unsophisticated and inadequate,” with Brussels only “reacting passively to Beijing’s assertive economic, diplomatic and military provocations.”

9 March 2021

Australia bans Chinese state media and set to debate genocide designation for China’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang

(dql/zh) Australian public broadcaster Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) has suspended broadcasts from Chinese state media channels CGTN and CCTV as it is reviewing human rights complaints submitted by the human rights organization Safeguard Defenders alerting SBS of “serious human rights concerns” over dozens of forced confessions shown in the news channels’ programs. [The Guradian 1]

CGNT has recently come under scrutiny by several national media watchdog agencies in Europe. In February, British media watchdog Ofcom revoked the CGTN license in the UK, arguing CGTN is “ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party” [AiR No.6, February/2021, 2].

Following Ofcom’s decision, CGNT’s approached the French Conseil superieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA), to apply for a broadcasting license. The CAS approved the application allowing the news channel to broadcast under French jurisdiction, adding, however, that it “will be particularly attentive to ensuring that CGTN ensures compliance with these legal requirements. Following CSA’s decision, Vodafone Germany resumed distribution of CGTN news. After Ofcom’s decision German media authorities had notified television networks, such as Vodafone, that the CGTN channel no longer had permission to broadcast. [South China Morning Post] [Deutsche Welle]

The decision of SBS further worsens already highly strained Sino-Australian relations over Canberra’s criticism of Beijing’s Covid-19 information policy, human rights abuses in Xinjiang and tightened grip on Hong Kong

Meanwhile, Australia’s Senate is set to debate whether to recognize China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority as genocide, following a proposal submitted by a Senator last week. While the Morrison administration has thus far refrained from calling the situation a genocide, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne expressed concerns about “some very horrific reports, particularly around forced labour, around re-education camps, allegations in in relation to the systematic torture and abuse of women”. [The Guardian 2]

In response, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called claims of a genocide against the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang absurd and a “lie” and added: “Speaking of genocide, many people would have in their minds the native Americans of the 16th century, African slaves of the 19th century, the Jewish people of the 20th century, and the Aboriginal Australians who are still struggling even today.” [BBC]   

In earlier moves the outgoing Trump administration in January declared the Chinese government was committing genocide in Xinjiang, followed by the Canadian and the Dutch parliaments which passed similar motions. [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4] [AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4] [AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]

In a latest development, Washington, DC-based think tank Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy released a report which it claims to be the “first independent expert application of the 1948 Genocide Convention to the ongoing treatment of the Uyghurs in China,” involving over 50 global experts in human rights, war crimes and international law. It concludes that Beijing “bears state responsibility for an ongoing genocide against the Uyghur in breach of the (UN) Genocide Convention.” [Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy] [CNN]

9 March 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Taiwan ridicules China’s Beijing-Taipei railway connection plans and condemns pineapple ban

(zh) China has announced plans to construct a high-speed railway and expressway linking Beijing and Taipei by 2035 in the annual session of the National People’s Congress. The envisioned connection is part of a “National Comprehensive Transportation Network Plan,” released by the China’s State Council, the country’s central government. It lays out construction goals for transportation links from 2021 to 2035 covering 700,000 kilometers.

Taiwanese politician and netizens called the plan “daydreaming” and called on Taiwanese citizens to regard it as a “science fiction novel,” while urging Beijing not to be a “frog at the bottom of a well”. [Nikkei Asia][Taiwan News] [Republic World]

Earlier this month, China announced to ban the import of Taiwan’s pineapples from March 1 on, citing bugs found in batches of imported pineapples and denying claims that the ban was politically motivated. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen decried the unilateral action, calling it an “

to IUU fishing activities, detecting some Chinese coast guard ships and fishing vessels near Natuna waters last year. A number of such incidents have attracted international attention to Chinese violation in Indonesian sovereign waters. Besides Chinese vessels, in August 2020 two Vietnamese vessels were found fishing illegally in Northern Natuna. [Antara News]

9 March 2021

China urges Russia to join hands fighting color revolutions

(zh) China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China and Russia should jointly fight against “color revolutions” and disinformation and safeguard the sovereignty and political security. Wang said the two countries could “set a model” in supporting each other and “building strategic mutual trust”.

Wang’s remark came after the US imposed sanctions on Russia for poisoning the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Beijing has tried to deepen its influence in Central Asia and Southeast Asia, where the two countries have common development and strategic interests.

China has publicly opposed color revolutions and criticized Western forces for instigating social movements. Beijing has accused Western countries, especially the US, of supporting the Hong Kong protest opposing the extradition bill in 2019. [Global Times][South China Morning Post]

9 March 2021

China military spending rises amid US plans build missiles along first island chain against China

(dql/zh) China’s Ministry of Finance announced that the country’s defense spending will reach 208 billion USD in 2021, a rise of 6.8% from the previous year. Prior to the announcement, the Defense Ministry revealed that one-third of the budget would be used on construction projects for military exercises, while the rest would be spent on weapons, equipment and salaries. [South China Morning Post]

China’s figure compares to 740 billion USD, the US Department of Defense has proposed for fiscal 2021, and to 51.6 billion USD in Japan amd 49.6 billion ISD in India. [National Interest]

Meanwhile, a report of US Indo-Pacific Command delivered to Congress on Monday calls for roughly 27 billion USD in additional spending between 2022 and 2027, in a bid to strengthen US deterrence against China in the region. [Defense News]

This includes a 4.6 billion budget in 2022 for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative a core part of which would be the establishment of a network of precision-strike missiles along the first island chain, which consists of islands including Taiwan, Okinawa, and the Philippines. [Nikkei Asia][Taiwan News 1][Taiwan News 2]

9 March 2021

Biden’s National Interim Guidance to “out-compete” China in long-term competition

(dql) Laying out the contours for his administration’s national security strategy required by June, US President’s Biden last week release his “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance.” With regards to China, he stressed the competitive nature of US-Sino relations while not entirely excluding space for diplomacy and cooperation.

Calling China the “only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system,” Biden identifies a number of polices and strategies to “out-compete a more assertive and authoritarian China in the long-term”. He calls on the US to restore credibility and reassert “forward-looking global leadership,” while“bolstering and defending our unparalleled network of allies and partners, and making smart defense investments.” Addressing Asian nations, he vowed to “support China’s neighbors and commercial partners in defending their rights to make independent political choices free of coercion or undue foreign influence.” In a boost for Taiwan amid high cross-strait tensions, he described the island as “a leading democracy and a critical economic and security partner,” which the US will support “in line with longstanding American commitments.” Furthermore, he reassured that the US will “stand up for democracy, human rights, and human dignity, including in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet.”

At the same time, Biden pledged “conduct practical, results-oriented diplomacy with Beijing and work to reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation,” while welcoming Beijing’s cooperation on shared challenges, including climate change, global health security, arms control, and nonproliferation. [White House, USA]

9 March 2021

Laos: From land-locked to land-linked?

(py) Laos, a landlocked country, has seen more connectivity in recent years, especially with China, promising a greater connectivity. The Boten-Vientiane railway, part of China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI), is expected to be completed within December 2021. If Laos is able to experience economic growth through it, it could help China guard off criticism over the alleged debt trap coming with participation in its BRI projects. Though this route is the least economically important in Southeast Asia, Laos is the most politically stable country, especially in comparison with Thailand and Myanmar. Additionally, the Chinese-Laos Vangvieng-Vientiane highway was completed last December. In September 2020, a new law on real estate property was enacted, allowing for the first time foreigners the right to own a unit or a suite inside a condominium.

Still, analysts worry that the new legislation could attract buyers from mainland, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. The rapidly growing demand in the residential sectors has been connected to growing foreign investment in the country, with China being the number one foreign direct investor in Laos.

Laos has also been active in incorporating technology to boost customs efficiency. The government has installed the Automated System for Customs Data at 24 of its border posts, saving cost and time for the cross-border movement of products in general.  Many experts believe Laos’ recent developments could pave the way for the country to become the next hotspot for investments, mimicking the development in Cambodia. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2] [The Laotian Times] [East Asia Forum]

9 March 2021

China: Concerns over further crackdown on political dissent as Chinese legislature is set to approve electoral reform for Hong Kong

(dql) Kicked off last week, China’s ‘two sessions’ – the annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) to make national-level political decisions – is discussing a reform of Hong Kong’s electoral system. The NPC is expected the pass the new law this week.

While details of the reform remain thus far unclear, it is widely believed that it will include two major changes: One is to add 300 members to the Election Committee that selects the Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, raising the current number of 1200 to 1500. These 300 are expected to be recruited from city’s delegates to the CPPCC and members of prominent mainland Chinese business, social and academic groups, bolstering the Beijing-loyal bloc in the Committee and severely decreasing the opposition’s ability to influence the selection of the city’s leader. The CPPCC traditionally consists of delegates from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its allied front organizations, eight legally-permitted political parties subservient to the CCP, as well as nominally independent members. The other core change is to grant the Committee the power to nominate candidates for the election to the Legislative Council (LegCo), the city’s parliament.  [South China Morning Post]

While CCP officials welcome the reform as necessary move to secure the “political baseline of ‘patriots governing Hong Kong’” and “to plug loopholes to ensure that those who govern the city meet relevant basic standards, including fully safeguarding sovereignty, national interest and never jeopardizing the socialist system led by the Communist Party of China (CPC),” critics view it as the latest crackdown on Hong Kong’s civil liberties and political dissent, following Beijing’s imposition of the Hong Kong security law last year. [Deutsche Welle] [AP]

2 March 2021

Laos: Thai court to reject appeal concerning Pak Beng dam

(py) A Thai court denied to hear an appeal on a case concerning Laos’s Pak Beng dam project. In 2017, two Mekong resident groups filed a petition to retract an environmental assessment performed by Thai agencies. Meanwhile, Laos’ government issued a decree, which requires all hydropower operators to inform authorities whenever dam reservoirs reach maximum storage or when river levels downstream fall to a critical level. [Voice of America] [Benar News

The Pak Beng Dam project, developed by Chinese Datang Overseas Investment Co., Ltd, is one of several Chinese-related developments and business projects in Laos that has triggered a Chinese language education boom. In 2018, Chinese investments accounted for 79 percent of all Foreign Direct Investment in Laos. [Radio Free Asia]

2 March 2021

Chinese cyber-attacks may have caused massive power outage in Mumbai last year

(lm) On October 12 last year, a grip failure had triggered Mumbai’s first major blackout in more than two years, causing chaos at hospitals and leading to the stoppage of its arterial suburban train network. Now, a study by Recorded Future, a US company monitoring state-sponsored cyber activities, lends further credence to the idea that the massive power outage may have been connected to the deadly brawl in the Galwan Valley four months earlier [see AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3]. [The Times of India] [New York Times]

Specifically, the US internet security firm found that Red Echo, a hacking group affiliated with the Chinese government had been repeatedly targeted a dozen critical nodes across the Indian power generation and transmission infrastructure to possibly coerce New Delhi on the border issue. However, Recorded Future on March 1 said it could not substantiate a potential link between the cyberattacks and Mumbai’s power outage. [Mint] [South China Morning Post] [Recorded Future]

Meanwhile, US-based cyber intelligence firm Cyfirma said another Chinese state-backed hacking group has in recent weeks targeted the IT systems of Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker whose coronavirus shots are being used in India’s ‘vaccine diplomacy’ [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]. [Reuters]

2 March 2021

Chinese diplomatic strategy: Boats and Vaccines 

(py) China and Singapore started a joint navy exercise as part of a 2019 agreement aimed at enhancing the two navies’ mutual trust, friendship and at promoting cooperation and the construction of a maritime community. The agreement also entails more high-level dialogues, academic and think tank exchanges and an increase the current bilateral exercise scope. An expert said the reason behind such drills was the weakened defense diplomacy in the region since most military personnel have been allocated to pandemic control. In early February, the US Secretary of State also called on Singapore’s foreign minister to emphasize the importance of US-Singapore security and economic relation and the US’s intention to strengthen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Besides military drills, Beijing seems to be eager to spread its vaccines in the region. China has provided Singapore with Sinovac vaccines even before the authorization from the Health Ministry. Experts said the move might be part of China’s vaccine diplomacy to showcase the world its capabilities to produce vaccines that are adopted in the first-world country. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2]

2 March 2021

China to push ahead with Hambantota port project amid reports of Sri Lanka having second thoughts

(lm) Beijing will push forward with a plan to develop Hambantota port, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a phone conversation with his Sri Lankan counterparty on February 3, amid reports that Colombo was seeking to renegotiate the deal. Wang also said that both countries would continue to cooperate to turn the Hambantota and Colombo ports into ‘the twin engines’ of Sri Lanka’s industrial development and economic growth. [South China Morning Post 1]

Construction on the project started in 2008, with China providing 85 percent of the funding. After the port incurred heavy losses and couldn’t generate enough revenue to repay the loan Sri Lanka had received to build it, the previous government in 2017 leased the port to China for 99 years. In return, the deal gave the government $1.1 billion that were used to strengthen US dollar reserves and pay short-term foreign debts unrelated to the port [see AiR December/2017, 3].

Since then, the port has been the subject of intense international scrutiny amid accusations Beijing is using ‘debt trap diplomacy’ for geopolitical clout [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. Hambantota’s location at the southern tip of Sri Lanka – within 10 nautical miles of the main shipping route from Asia to Europe – makes it a key maritime hub on China’s Maritime Silk Road.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he wanted to renegotiate the deal with China soon after he took office in late 2019, but later denied he had such a plan [AiR No. 52, December/2019, 4]. Last September, then, the government mandated the foreign minister to reassess existing bilateral agreements, and to investigate whether they may have a detrimental effect on the local economy [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1].

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena added to the uncertainty over the deal on February 27 saying the 99-year lease of the Hambantota port to China could be extended to 198 years, calling it a ‘mistake’ made by the previous government. The minister, however, did not say whether the government intended to make changes to the agreement. [South China Morning Post 2]


2 March 2021

With pacts with Maldives and Mauritius, India seeks to offset Chinese influence in Indian Ocean Region

(lm) India and Mauritius have signed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CEPCA) – New Delhi’s first such agreement with an African country – to provide preferential access to several items that cater to market requirements on both sides. Both countries also signed a $100 million Line of Credit agreement to enable the procurement of defense assets from India. [The Hindu]

Both documents were signed on February 22, the first day of India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar two-day visit to Mauritius. During his visit, Jaishankar met with high-ranking Maldivian officials, including the president and prime minister Pravind Jugnauth – both of Indian-origin.

The signing of the CEPCA assumes added significance, coming as it does shortly after India signed a $50 million Line of Credit agreement with the Maldives and agreed to develop and maintain a key naval facility for the Maldivian Coast Guard [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4].

There is a good case to believe that both events have to be seen against the larger backdrop of the ‘String of Pearls’ theory on potential Chinese government intentions in the Indian Ocean region (IOR). Specifically, it is built upon the assumption that China is aiming to establish a network of commercial and military assets to support Chinese naval operations along the Sea Lane of Communications (SLOCs), which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan in the Horn of Africa. [South Asia Monitor]

To counter Chinese influence in the IOR, New Delhi has been stepping up efforts to deepen its sot-power bonds with both the Maldives and Mauritius. Both island nations were among the first countries to receive free consignments of Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom), when India first utilized its vast manufacturing capacity to bolster bilateral ties in January [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]

India’s naval footprint in the Indo-Pacific has also been boosted by growing ties with France, which enjoys basing rights in Réunion, an Indian Ocean island in East Africa. Last year, the navies of both countries for the first time conducted joint patrols from the small island nation, signaling New Delhi’s intent to expand its footprint in the stretch between the East African coastline and the Strait of Malacca.


2 March 2021

China backs India’s hosting of BRICS

(lm) China’s President Xi Jinping may travel to India in the second half of this year to attend the annual summit of the BRICS grouping of five major emerging economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Moreover, Beijing on February 22 expressed its support for India hosting this year’s iteration of the summit, adding that it would not be impacted by the border crisis. [The Hindu] [South China Morning Post]

Beijing’s change of heart comes shortly after the two countries had completed the pull-back of troops from the southern and northern shores of Pangong Tso, a glacial lake at 4,242m, and held their tenth round of border talks to assess how the operation was going. [AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]

Since 2009, the governments of the BRICS states have met annually at formal summits. Russia hosted the most recent 12th summit in November last year, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing the summit last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called terrorism the biggest problem facing the world today, adding that there was a need to ensure that countries that shelter terrorists must also be blamed. Read between the lines, the remarks were a clear nod to China, which has repeatedly shielded Pakistan from international censure for sponsoring cross-border terrorism in India and Afghanistan [see AiR No. 47, November/2020, 4].


2 March 2021

India, China agree to set up hotline between foreign ministers to cool down border tension

(lm) Indicating positive momentum in China-India ties, the two neighbors have agreed to set up a hotline between their foreign ministers, complementing a military hotline already in place between the Indian Army’s Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) and China’s Western Theatre Command. The decision was reached in a phone conversation between India’s Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi – talking for the first time in five months – on February 25. [Al Jazeera]

Prior to the phone conversation, both sides had completed the pull-back of troops from the southern and northern shores of Pangong Tso, a glacial lake at 4,242m that had become a flashpoint in the prolonged border dispute [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. As per an agreement announced by India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh earlier this month, the two countries are now to hold talks to resolve the remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh.

Against this backdrop, the two diplomats emphasized the need to implement the consensus reached on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Moscow last September [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]. Thus, Jaishankar informed his Chinese counterpart that restoring normality to the broader bilateral relationship would first require complete disengagement and ensuing de-escalation along the border. 

China, however, takes the view that India’s holistic approach, comprising blocking Beijing from participating in government tenders, and banning dozens of Chinese apps [see e.g. AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1], among other things, was going against a past consensus of containing differences while cooperating elsewhere. [The Hindu]

2 March 2021

Africa largest beneficiary of China’s Belt and Road energy finance in 2020

(dql) Reflecting China’s efforts to increase its influence in Africa, the bulk or at least two-thirds of its total spending on overseas energy financing in 2020 was allocated to African projects, according to data released by the Global Development Policy of Boston University.

While overall, overseas financing for energy projects dropped by 43% from 8.1 billion USD in 2019 to 4.6 billion USD in 2020, Africa received 3.1 billion out of last year’s total. [Boston University] [South China Morning Post]

2 March 2021

China-Netherlands relations: Genocide is going on in Xinjiang, Dutch parliaments says, amid calls for boycott of Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympic Games

(zh) The Dutch parliament had passed a non-binging motion stating “a genocide on the Uighur minority is occurring in China”, without directly saying the Chinese government was responsible. The Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok, however, told reporters that “the situation of the Uighurs is a cause of great concerns”, adding the government did not want to use the term genocide as the situation has yet been declared by the United Nations or an international court. The Dutch parliament is the second national assembly to pass such motion, following the Canadian parliament which overwhelmingly voted for earlier in February. 

In response, the Chinese Embassy in The Hague described any suggestion of genocide in Xinjiang as an “outright lie”, criticizing the Dutch parliament had “grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.”  [AiR No.8, February/2021,4] [Reuters

In a related statement, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet decried the reported arbitrary detentions and ill-treatment of Muslim Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang, demanding a thorough and independent assessment of the situation. [Aljazeera]

With international criticism of China’s treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang unabating, governments have increasingly come under the pressure to declare a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. [BBC 1] In a latest statement, the White House said the US had not made a final decision on that, signaling a slight shift from early February when the Biden administration said the US would not change the plans related to the Olympics. Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected the call from the Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey to withdraw athletes from the Beijing games, saying the UK did not “normally” support sporting boycotts and was “leading international action in the UN to hold China to account.” [BBC 2][CNBC]

China has consistently denied any mistreatment against the Uighurs in Xinjiang, stressing China’s action is to combat terrorism and separatism. “There has never been so-called genocide, forced labor, or religious oppression in Xinjiang,” said the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, “Such inflammatory accusations are fabricated out of ignorance and prejudice, they are simply malicious and politically-driven hype and could not be further from the truth.” He also said China welcomed visits by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the region. [Hong Kong Free Press]

2 March 2021

China-French relations: Xi reaches out to Macron as driving force of Sino-EU relations  

(dql) Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone talk has reached out to French counterpart Emmanuel Macron as driving force for Sino-EU relations. Xi expressed his support for Macron’s call for the European Union’s strategic autonomy, while at the same time reassuring that Beijing was ready to join hands with Paris “to actively explore tripartite cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe, so as to open up new space for China-EU cooperation.” Xi also called for joint efforts to have the China-EU investment deal, agreed between leaders on both sides, ratified and put into effect. 

Furthermore, both leaders discussed ways to strengthen cooperation in various areas including support for the World Health Organization’s fight against the pandemic, debt relief and suspension for Africa and climate change. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

Xi’s outreach to France comes at a time when China is confronted with growing dissatisfaction among Central and Eastern European countries over their cooperation with China, mostly in the frame of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the EU-China investment deal is facing backlash in European Parliament (EP) after members of the EP accused the European Commission of ignoring labor conditions in China. [AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4] [South China Morning Post]

Macron, on his side, made clear in a recent online discussion of the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council that he was not supporting a US-EU transatlantic common front against China, calling a “situation to join all together against China,”  a “scenario of the highest possible conflictuality.” [Politico]

2 March 2021

China-Australia relations: Chinese students discouraged to study in Down Under

(dql) Already strained Sino-Australian relations continue to spiral downward, after reports surfaced revealing that local authorities issued directives encouraging Chinese recruitment agencies to abstain from sending students to Australia. While there has been no official communication about this action yet, universities across Australia are a bracing for a substantial drop in Chinese students.

A critical revenue source for Australian universities, Chinese students in 2019 made up for 10 billion AUSD in foreign student fees and 37% in enrolments, making China the largest source country. [Sydney Morning Herald]


2 March 2021

Cross-strait relations: PLA and Taiwanese concurrently hold military exercises in the South China Sea

(dql) Amid high running cross-strait tensions, China and Taiwan are holding military drills at the same time in the South China Sea. According to a notice of Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA), the Tawainese military conducted a round of live-fire exercise on Monday on the Taiwan-held Pratas Islands. Similar drills are scheduled to be staged next week. China, meanwhile, kicked off on the same day a month-long military exercise west of the Leizhou Peninsula in Guangdong province. [Focus Taiwan1] [South China Morning Post]

In an earlier show of force, at least 10 Chinese bombers belonging to the Southern Theatre Command conducted maritime strike exercises in the South China Sea, immediately after the Lunar New Year Holiday which ended on February 17. The drills involved China’s most advanced H-6J bomber. [Global Times 1]

Further fueling the tensions, last week the US was also present in the disputed region. While various reconnaissance aircraft as well as the ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable carried out surveillance missions in the South China Sea, a US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer transited through the Taiwan Strait. [Global Times 2] [Focus Taiwan 2]

Meanwhile, two US lawmakers have introduced a resolution calling for the US government to resume formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and end the “one China policy.” It also urged he government to negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement with Taiwan, and support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations. [Taiwan News]

2 March 2021

China-Japan relations: Tokyo voices concerns over mass arrests in Hong Kong

(dql/zh) In response to a question from an opposition party during a parliamentary session, the Japanese government issued a statement criticizing China’s grip on Hong Kong, saying it “cannot tolerate mass arrests” and had “grave concerns” over the situation in the city. At the same time, the statement stressed the importance of economic and personal ties between Japan and Hong Kong, saying Tokyo had conveyed its position to Beijing and was working with allied countries on the issue. Japan was Hong Kong’s fourth-largest trading partner in 2019. [South China Morning Post]

The statement comes as Sino-Japanese tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea flared up after Chinese coast guard ships entered disputed waters around the Senkaku/Diayu islands, prompting intervention by a Japanese patrol ship as well as criticism of the US Department of Defense (DoD) calling on China “to stop sending government ships into Japan’s territorial waters,” and refrain from actions that could cause “miscalculations” and “potential physical harm.” The DoD added that the US was committed to defending Japan in case of conflict, according to  Article 5 of the 1906 bilateral security treaty between both the US and Japan. [NHK] [Republic World]

In response, China’s Foreign Ministry lashed out against Japan and the US calling the Japan-US mutual security pact a product of the Cold War, “which should not harm a third party’s interest or endanger regional peace and stability.” [Military Times]

2 March 2021

China-US trade relations to remain troubled over rare-earths and technology 

(dql/zh) US President Joe Biden has instructed his administration in an executive order to conduct a review to identify and fix potential cracks in critical supply chains that could affect Americans’ everyday life. While the order does not mention any country, it is believed to mainly target China. The review will focus on four areas to determine where the vulnerabilities lie: semiconductor, large capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals and drug ingredients, and rare-earth metals

Rare-earth minerals have become one of the focal issues in the deteriorating US-China trade relationship, with China having leverage over the US with its near-monopolistic control of the supply chain for these metals and recently looking into potential damage to US and European companies caused by limitations on rare earth exports. Between 2016 and 2019, 80% of rare earth imports to the US originated from China. [Bloomberg][CNN]

For a discussion on the role Australia – home to the world’s six largest reserves of rare-earth minerals – could play in forging a front with the US, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan against China’s rare earths dominance, see Matthew Page and John Coyne in [The Strategist] who also draw attention to China’s dependency on Myanmar’s heavy rare earths.

Furthermore, the Biden administration is reportedly considering to allow a sweeping rule from the Trump-era aimed at tackling Chinese technology posing threats to national security to take effect next month, under which the Commerce Department would be enabled to ban technology-related business transactions that it determines as a national security threat, part of an effort to secure US supply chains. [Wall Street Journal]

For views of global tech executives in this and other matters of the US-China tech competition see the poll report in [Brookings] which concludes that – among others – it is to be expected that both the US and China will “push policies that encourage greater decoupling, causing the global technology industry to increasingly bifurcate into two spheres,” with the result that “Chinese companies will take the lead in some emerging high-tech systems and solutions markets, and while China will continue to close the gap in overall technology capability, the United States will maintain its overall lead in core technology capabilities, such as semiconductors and operating systems.”

Echoing the assessment of China lagging behind in core technology capabilities, the Chinese government has scrapped a 20 billion USD semiconductor manufacturing project following the decision of its key operator Wuhan Hongxin Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (HSMC) its decision to dismiss all employees. 

Launched in November 2017 and expected to become a state-of-the art facility, HSMC soon face complains about delayed payments and about leading employees lacking background in semiconductor manufacturing. HSMC is the latest of more than ten government sponsored semiconductor projects which were reported to have crashed over the past two years. [South China Morning Post]

For a discussion of China’s recent efforts to strengthen autonomy in semiconductor production, see Yvette To in [East Asia Forum] who concludes that, despite government development subsidies of 50 billion USD over the past two decades, “China’s chip manufacturing capability is at least two generations (7–10 years)” behind Taiwan as the leader in this industry.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden’s nominee as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), William Burns, a former career diplomat who already worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, called in his confimration hearing in the Senate China “an adversarial power and the intelligence community’s greatest geopolitical challenge.” He added the warning that the competition with China “is not like the competition with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, which was primarily in security and ideological terms. This is an adversary that is extraordinarily ambitious with technology and capable in economic terms as well.” [New York Times]

For insights into China’s political warfare, see Kerry Gershaneck in [Sunday Guardian Live] who warns that “democracies’ blindness to PRC political warfare severely undermines the ability to conceptualize the threat.”  

2 March 2021

China: Court orders man to financially compensate ex-wife for housework

(dql) In a landmark decision, a Chinese court has ordered a man to pay some 7.700 USD in compensation to his former wife for raising their son and shouldering housework during their five-year marriage. The woman was also granted custody of the son and awarded a monthly alimony of 300 USD.

The ruling is the first of its kind under China’s new civil code, a wide-ranging legislative package in force since January 1 this year. Aimed at better protecting the rights of individuals, the code contains also a clause allowing a spouse to seek compensation from their partner during divorce in return for more responsibility in looking after children and elderly relatives. [CNN]


2 March 2021

China: Hong Kong government to table Beijing allegiance oath bill, opposition lawmakers charged under national security law

(dql) Hong Kong’s government announced that it will table in March a bill to change the city’s electoral system which would mandate the city’s district councilors to pledge and maintain an oath of loyalty to Hong Kong and Beijing. Otherwise, they would face disqualification and a five-year ban from running for re-election. Thus far, they did not need to take such an oath of office.

The oath is part of a set of provisions in the bill stipulating behavior that would constitute a breach of the oath and would lead to disqualification including refusing to recognize China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, opposing government bills without discrimination, pushing for the chief executive’s resignation, and conducting “disguised referendums”. The latter apparently alludes to the July 2020 primary for the participation in which 47 opposition lawmakers and activist now have been charged with conspiracy to commit subversion (see entry above).

Critics of the bill believe that it aims at intimidating and silencing political dissent among the city’s districts councilors who, although deciding only about community issues, have come under stronger scrutiny by Beijing after the opposition camp secured a landslide victory in the district election in November 2012 when it won nearly 90% almost of 452 district council seats. [The Guardian] [Reuters]

For a sketch of major measures taken by the Hong Kong government to tighten control over pro-democracy forces in line with the national security see Wenxin Fan in [Wall Street Journal] who concludes that Beijing’s “campaign to crush democracy in Hong Kong is working.”


2 March 2021

China: Hong Kong police charge 47 opposition lawmakers and activists under national security law

(dql) Marking a heavy blow to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, the city’s police have charged 47 opposition lawmakers and activists with conspiring to subvert state power under Hong Kong’s national security law over accusations of helping or running as candidates in the primary which was held by the pro-democracy camp in July 2020 to select candidates for the – subsequently postponed – Legislative Council (LegCo) election and which the police linked to an attempt to paralyze the government after candidates announced during the primary that the lawmakers of pro-democracy camp would close ranks to block legislative initiatives of the city’s government in case they would win the election. With a turnout of more than 600.000, equaling almost half of votes the pro-democracy camp received in the 2016 general election, it was the most-participated primary held in the history of Hong Kong since the 1997 handover and a massive legitimacy boost for the pro-democracy camp, nourishing hopes for a first-ever victory in the LegCo election. [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]

All 47 face sentences up to life in prison if convicted. [South China Morning Post] [The Guardian]

2 March 2021

China: Six Chinese detained for ‘insulting’ soldiers killed in India border clash

(dql) At least six Chinese have been detained over accusations of defaming four Chinese soldiers killed in a border clash with India last June.

Among the arrested is Qiu Ziming, a blogger with more than 2.5 million followers, who reportedly questioned the official death toll given by Chinese authorities, and the eight-month timeline before an official announcement. Qui is now suspected of “picking quarrels and causing trouble”, a broadly defined crime which carries 10 years in jail, and is often used against journalists and activists. [The Guardian]

China in 2018 passed a law in 2018 banning people from “insulting or slandering heroes and martyrs.” Originally a civil matter, the offense will be made a criminal on in an amendment to the country’s criminal law, which comes into effect next month. Under that amendment, people who “insult, slander or use other means to infringe the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs and damage the public interest of society” can be punished with imprisonment of up to three years. [CNN]

2 March 2021

China: Woman jailed for posting information about Covid-19 victims on social media

(dql) A court document released by China’s Ministry of Public Security reveals that last year a Chinese woman was handed down a six-month in prison sentence after the court found her guilty of “knowingly spreading false information and causing serious disruption to public order.” She was detained in April 2020 after she published information on social media about people who had died or suffered during the pandemic health crisis. 

She is one of at least a dozen people known to have been prosecuted, detained or fined for violating the government’s official narrative on the pandemic. [South China Morning Post]

2 March 2021

China: Extreme poverty completely eradicated, says Xi Jinping

(dql) Speaking at a ceremony held to honor ‘model fighters’ in the government’s campaign to alleviate poverty, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that extreme poverty has been completely eradicated in China, with more than 800 million people lifted out of destitution since the country’s opening-up at the end of the 1970s and about 100 million since he has assumed power. Citing precise strategies centered at households and individuals and tailored measures to lift productivity as main reasons for the success in alleviating poverty, Xi hailed the achievement as a “splendid man-made miracle for the history books”, “great glory” of the Chinese people and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as well as testament to the Party’s leadership role and strength in mobilizing the masses for a common cause.[Xinhua, in Chinese]

Analysts caution against China’s claims, pointing to a threshold to define poverty which is too low given China’s economic growth as well as to poverty alleviation as political strategy of the CCP, see [Washington Post], [South China Morning Post], [Brookings] and [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief]

At the same day of Xi’s speech, the National Administration for Rural Revitalization, a new a government agency charged with the promotion of development in the country’s rural areas was launched. It replaces the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, which was established a more than 30 years ago. [China Daily]

In a related development, the government released the so-called “Document No. 1” as it traditionally is the first policy announcement at the begin of each lunar year which focuses on agriculture and rural affairs. Besides the usual announcement of the guarantees of farmers’ rights and protection, the document highlights the need for consolidating and expanding poverty alleviation achievements. Among other proposals, the policy paper suggests to concentrate on large and medium-sized resettlement areas while providing assistance with employment for people who are willing to move there as well as continuing to improve infrastructure in those areas. It also urges to “intensify the crackdown on illegal religious activities and foreign infiltration in rural areas.” [Global Times] [Ministry of Ecology and Energy, China, in Chinese]

23 February 2021

Japan-US relations: Joint navy exercises kicks off amid intrusions of Chinese coast guard vessels into Japanese waters

(dql) Japan and the US have begun Resilient Shield 2021 exercises, computer-based naval drills focusing on ballistic missiles defense and involving nearly 80 American and Japanese command centers. They aimed to test joint tactics used to face regional threats. [Newsweek]

The exercises come a day after two Chinese Coast Guard vessels have repeatedly entered and left Japan’s territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands on Sunday, marking the ninth intrusion this year and the latest since China’s new coast guard law entered into force on February 1. The new law allows its coast guard to use weapons against foreign ships viewed by Beijing as illegally entering its waters. [Japan Times]


23 February 2021

To oust Chinese firm, India offers grant for power project in northern Sri Lanka

(lm) In an effort to undo the presence of a Chinese company in its immediate backyard, India has reportedly offered Sri Lanka $12 million in grants to set up hybrid wind and solar energy projects on three Sri Lankan islands only 45 kilometers off the coast of Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. [The Hindu]

The Cabinet of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in mid-January had selected a Chinese company to develop the projects – just weeks before Colombo also pulled out of three-party agreement with India and Japan for operating the strategic Colombo Port’s Eastern Container Terminal (ECT). Back then, New Delhi had lodged a strong protest with the Sri Lankan government, citing the project site’s proximity to the Indian coastline. [AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]

Meanwhile, a group of political parties representing Sri Lankan Tamils – an ethno-linguistic group whose people live both in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka – have voiced opposition to Chinese involvement in the project, citing “security threats” to Tamil people and India.


23 February 2021

Pakistan softens terms to get Chinese loans for crucial rail project

(lm) In the dispute over the parameters of a Chinese loan to upgrade Pakistan’s railway lines, Islamabad has softened its position on both interest rate and loan currency. In a revised loam term sheet Pakistan shared with Beijing earlier this month, Islamabad agreed to borrow $6 billion in both Chinese and US currencies. [The Express Tribune]

Last August, Pakistan`s top economic body had approved Mainline-1 (ML-1), a $6.8 billion project to upgrade railway infrastructure in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor[see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Work on the first phase of the project was scheduled to commence in January and be completed in 2024. However, as of yet, no contractors have been selected for the project. Eager to finalize the deal, Islamabad is reportedly planning to table the issue during the next meeting of CPEC’s principal decision-making body, the Joint Cooperation Committee. However, China continues to be reluctant to schedule the meeting, causing some observers to believe that the agreement was derailing [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2].

Due to the strategic importance of the project, Islamabad had initially been hoping that Beijing would provide up to 90 percent of the financing and would further agree to a 1 percent interest for the loan. In November, then, Islamabad requested an initial $2.7 billion loan from Beijing for the construction of package-I of the project [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Citing Pakistan’s weakened financial position, however China in December offered to finance only 85 percent of the costs, and rejected the proposed interest rate. As to the payback period, Beijing suggested 15 to 20 years in biannual tranches, including a five-year grace period. Pakistan, however, has asked for a 20-year repayment period, including a 10-year grace period. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].


23 February 2021

India set to clear some new investment proposals from China in coming weeks

(lm) India reportedly plans to ease restrictions on investment from China in the coming weeks as relations between the two neighboring countries thaw amid an easing in border tensions. However, only sectors that are not sensitive to national security will be cleared, with investment proposals from Chinese smartphone makers and new-energy companies likely to be the first, according to experts. [The Straits Times] [Global Times]

Last week, India and China began disengagement along the southern and northern shores of Pangong Tso – a glacial lake at 4,242m – after nine months of fitful progress to resolve the border stand-off in the Himalayas [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3].

Tension between the two countries had escalated after more than 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a military clash in June [see AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3]. Ever since, anti-China sentiment has been soaring in India and sparked calls for a boycott of goods from the neighboring country. Against this backdrop, New Delhi framed various policies targeting China, including blocking the nation from participating in government tenders, compelling any Chinese company investing in India to seek approvals [see AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3], and banning dozens of Chinese apps [see e.g. AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]

In addition, India also added extra scrutiny for visas for Chinese businessmen, academics, industry experts, and advocacy groups – with the consequence of unintentionally hurting Taiwanese companies that were in the process of setting up factories in India to diversify their supply chains [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4. [The Straits Times]

23 February 2021

India, China complete pull-back of forces along Pangong Tso lake

(lm) India and China have completed the pull-back of troops from the southern and northern shores of Pangong Tso, a glacial lake at 4,242m, according to a joint statement issued by the Indian defense ministry on February 21. Further, the statement acknowledged that other parts of the border remained tense and looked forward to continuing talks. [South China Morning Post]

Footage supplied by the Indian government last week showed tanks from both sides leaving the north bank of the lake and returning to their base camps. Satellite images also showed that China had withdrawn troops, dismantled infrastructure and moved vehicles to empty out entire camps. [The Straits Times] [CNN] [BBC]

After nine months of fitful progress to resolve the high-altitude border stand-off, China announced on February 10 that both countries had agreed to withdraw frontline troops along the lake that became a flashpoint in the prolonged border dispute [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3]. Commanders from both sides held their tenth round of border talks on February 20 to assess how the operation was going.


23 February 2021

Quad diplomats hold virtual meeting

(lm) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met virtually on February 18 with his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan under the informal Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a loose strategic coalition seen as a potential bulwark against China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. The meeting was the grouping’s first under the new Biden-Harris Administration, although it has discussed its future role in bilateral calls with members since then [see e.g. AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post]

During the meeting, Blinken and his counterparts – Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar – discussed their cooperation on various global and regional issues, including tensions in the South China Sea, climate change, North Korea and the recent coup d’état in Myanmar [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]. [The Hindu]

In a separate call, The US Secretary of State also met virtually the same day with his counterparts from France, Germany and the United Kingdom – a group known as the “E3”.

23 February 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Appointment of new Mainland Affairs Council chairman to signal Taiwan’s less confrontational China policy

(dql/zh) In a move widely seen among analysts as signaling an adjustment of Taiwan’s confrontational China policy towards more pragmatism, President Tsai Ing-wen has appointed former Taiwanese Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san as new head of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC).

During the swearing-in ceremony, Chiu, who had been the Council’s vice chairman from 2004 to 2005, expressed hope that both sides overcome the current diplomatic impasse and move towards “exchanges based on pragmatism”, adding that if “political exchanges are too sensitive … and there is not enough mutual trust, we can always start with non-political, economic, social and cultural exchanges to build up mutual trust before taking on higher-level issues.”

Analysts also believe that Tsai’s decision to shift to a more pragmatic approach in cross-strait relations follows concerns of the Biden administration that Taiwan as a potential flashpoint of Sino-US tensions will disrupt its foreign policy. In a statement in December US Indo-Pacific coordinator chief Kurt Campbell stated that a degree of “productive and quiet dialogue” between Beijing and Taipei was “in everyone’s best strategic interests”. [South China Morning Post] [Focus Taiwan]

In another – more provocative – move towards China, Tsai ordered all of Taiwan’s coast guard vessels to be emblazoned the word ‘Taiwan’ above the original designation “ROC Coast guard.” According to the Presidential Office, the move – coming shortly after China’s new launched coast guard law, which permits coast guard vessels to use military weapons in the waters China claims – aims at better distinguishing Taiwan’s law enforcement vessels from China’s. [Focus Taiwan] [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s air force scrambled after nine Chinese air force aircraft on Friday and another 11 aircraft on Saturday, including eight fighter jets, two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers and an anti-submarine aircraft, flew near the Pratas Islands in the top part of the South China Sea, also claimed by Beijing. At the same time, four retired Taiwanese military intelligence officers have been indicted for developing a spying network and collecting confidential information for Beijing. [VoA] [Channel News Asia]


23 February 2021

China-UK relations: UK seeks to trade with China despite human rights concerns

(zh) London is reaching out to China to boost bilateral trade notwithstanding the deterioration of relations between the two countries following the introduction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong and the British subsequent offer of citizenship for Hong Kong BN(O) passport holders. 

Speaking at a roundtable with Chinese businesses in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he seeks to resume the China-UK Joint Trade and Economic Commission (Jecto) and the Economic and Financial Dialogue, the annual discussion between the two countries. Both had been suspended in response to China’s repression of civil rights in the former UK colony of Hong Kong.

British Foreign Secretary Domonic Raab, meanwhile, said he had offered to “go to Beijing” and speak to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi over the Hong Kong issue, which has not been accepted by China. Concerning human rights, he reiterated that Britain views Hong Kong’s National Security Law as a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, expressing concerns on “very worrying” human right condition in Xinjiang. [Guardian] [South China Morning Post]

23 February 2021

Lithuanian government blocks Chinese scanning equipment amid growing wariness of Chinese influence in 17+1 countries 

(dql/zh) Lithuania has banned Nuctech, a Chinese tech firm providing inspection and security software, describing the companies as “a threat to national security”.

The ban is the latest sign of Lithuania and other Baltic states becoming increasingly wary of China’s influence, with the Lithuanian government drafting a bill to bar companies posing a security risk in the transportation, energy, and telecommunication sectors and Estonia’s intelligence service warning in its 2021 report of “growing pressure from China” and “Chinese influence operations mov[ing] to the West.” Earlier this month, leaders of all three Baltic countries refused to attend the Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries (17+1) summit, and sent lower-level ministers instead. [EU Observer] [Foreign Intelligence Service, Estonia] [Politico]

China has been trying to strengthen ties with the Baltic region, the frontline of the North Atlantic Organization (NATO), by massive foreign investment. However, with Chinese investment being non-profitable, interference in domestic politics, and concerns over Chinese cyber espionage rising, Baltic states are waking up to the country’s ambition to influence the region, Jessica Larsen argues in [DIIS].

For another critical assessment of China’s achievements in Central and Eastern Europe, see Andreea Brinza in [The Diplomat] who suggests that 17+1 has become a “Zombie Mechanism” and that the countries in this region, once expected to be China’s “gateway to Europe”, have turned into its “biggest headache.”

For a similar account of Balkan countries see [South China Morning Post]. 

23 February 2021

China-Russia relations: MoU on international lunar research station            

(zh) China and Russia are set to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to build an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), a moon base that is expected to provide a base for long-term robotic and potentially short-term crewed missions by the early 2030s.

The MoU follows Russia’s decision last year not to join Artemis Accords, a set of principles governing behavior for members of the NASA-led Artemis lunar exploration program, marking another move to deepen Sino-Russian relations. 

Signatories of the Accords besides the US include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates, and Ukraine. [Space News 1] [Space News 2]


23 February 2021

China-Canada relations: Further deterioration over actions against Muslim Uighurs 

(zh) Adding to already strained China-Canada relations, Canadian lawmakers approved an opposition-initiated non-binding motion to designate China’s actions against Muslim Uighurs Xinjiang province as a genocide. The vote was not attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and senior members of cabinet. [The Guardian]

The move comes shortly after Canada launched the “Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations” calling on “all States to refrain from arbitrary arrest, detention, or sentencing to exercise leverage over foreign governments in the context of State-to-State relations.” While the declaration does not specifically name any country, it is widely seen as targeting especially China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. 59 countries thus far have signed the declaration, including besides Canada, the US, the UK, the vast majority of the member states of the European Union, Japan and Australia. However, only a few countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America countries are participating in the initiative. [AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3]

China has strongly criticized Canada’s declaration describing the initiative as a “hypocritical and despicable act” and as part of Canada’s “megaphone diplomacy,” ganging up on China with other countries. [South China Morning Post


23 February 2021

China-US discord over Covid-19 flares up again

(zh) China-US tensions over Beijing’s information policy on the Covid-19 pandemic flared up after a statement of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made in response to UN Secretary General Guiterres’ call on countries to work together to secure global access to Covid-19 vaccination at a UN Security Council meeting last week. Blinken confirmed the US commitment to multilateralism, the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO).  He also urged all countries to “make available all data from the earliest days of any outbreak” to advance understanding the pandemic and prepare for the next one, demanding “[t]ransparency, information sharing, access for international experts” as “hallmarks of our common approach to what is truly a global challenge.”

While Sullivan did not mention China in his statement, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quick to hit back, warning all “to resist prejudice, respect science, and reject disinformation and the attempts to politicise the pandemic.” [South China Morning Post]

The verbal exchange between the two Foreign Ministers comes shortly after White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan claimed that finding of the WHO investigation expert team were not free “from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” in response to which China’s embassy in Washington accused the US of “gravely damage[ing] international cooperation on COVID-19” and of “pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO and at the WHO itself.” [AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3]

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called for a UN resolution for ceasefires across the globe to allow those living in war zones to get COVID vaccines at the Security Council meeting. [Sky News][See AiR No.6, February/ 2021,2]


23 February 2021

China-US trade relations: Tariffs posed by Trump to be kept in place      

(zh) The US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced that tariffs imposed on China by the former Trump administration will remain the same “for the moment”, adding that the White House is evaluating its approach toward China, including how to further deal “with a range of issues where we see unfair practices,” including property rights, and subsidies to high-technology industries. [South China Morning Post 1]

In response, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the US to remove “unreasonable tariffs, unilateral sanctions, and unreasonable suppression”, adding that the two countries should bridge differences through high-level dialogue, adding that confrontation would be “a disaster”. [South China Morning Post 2]     

Meanwhile, lawmakers of the US House of Representatives have reintroduced a bill which provides for a ban on the import of all goods sourced in Xinjiang, unless it is certified they are not produced with forced labour. The legislative move comes five months after the House’s approval of a previous version wiped from the docket after it failed to move through the Senate before that congressional session ended in January. [Aljazeera]

For a discussion on a possible shift from Trump’s ‘decoupling’ of the world’s two largest economies to ‘competitive re-coupling’ under the Biden administration, see Yan Liang in [East Asia Forum] who suggest that both countries “carefully manage their differences, coordinate and collaborate on areas of common interest,” while “compet[ing] on equal footing in areas such as technology and trade.

For numbers and data on the costs the US economy would suffer in case of a sharp de-coupling see the report released by the US Chamber of Commerce and Rhodium Group which predicts the US would lose over 1 trillion USD worth of production and long-term global competitiveness is such a case. [Chamber of Commerce, USA] [CNBC]  

23 February 2021

Sino-US strategic relations:  Biden calls for close ranks among allies to face China

(dql) Speaking at the virtually held Munich Security Conference last Friday and addressing for the first European leaders as US President, Joe Biden reassured his administration’s determination to reset relations between the US and Europe to build a common front against China. He vowed that after years of “strained and tested […] transatlantic relationship”, the US is now “determined to reengage with Europe” to “prepare together for a long-term strategic competition with China” and to counter “the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion that undercut the foundations of the international economic system.” [White House, USA]

In response to Biden’s remarks, China’s Foreign Ministry warned against “practicing group politics or forming cliques against specific countries based on ideology.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

Signaling that Biden’s envisioned common front against China will be an uphill struggle, the joint statement of the leaders of the G7 who met before Biden’s speech at the conference was much less confrontational. It stated that, aiming at “supporting a fair and mutually beneficial global economic system for all people,” the G7 countries “will engage with others, especially G20 countries including large economies such as China,” and “consult with each other on collective approaches to address non-market oriented policies and practices.” [European External Action Service, European Union]

23 February 2021

Laos: Chinese company sets to begin studies for iron mining 

(py) A Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Laotian province Xaysomboun and China’s Tai Xan Meng Sion-Lao Minerals Corporation earlier this month allows the Chinese company now to begin feasibility studies in the area, while local residents and environmentalists worry about polluted rivers and fields.

Though on paper, residents are often ensured safety from pollution and side-effects of the construction, infrastructure projects in Laos have been notorious for not keeping their promise with Laotians displaced and unheard.

The backlashes of mega-projects, especially dam constructions, also go beyond the border. Lately, a Thai NGO, Fair Finance Thailand, has called on several Thai financial institutions to withhold loans for the Luang Prabang dam project until a risk-mitigation study is done. Laos’s recent economic growth has been mainly due to concessions to China, Thailand and Vietnam for natural resources. Not long ago, Laos had asked China to restructure its debt and rejected the IMF’s loan, China could pressure Laos to make more concessions of its natural resources. [Radio Free Asia] [South China Morning Post 1[South China Morning Post 2]


23 February 2021

China/Hong Kong: Change of the top of Radio Television Hong Kong raise concerns over media freedom

(dql) Hong Kong’s government announced a change at the helm of the city’s public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), with current editor-in-chief Leung Ka-wing’s to be replaced om March 1 by Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs and career bureaucrat Patrick Li Pak-chuen.

Since assuming the post in 2015, Leung has been facing pressure to reign in RTHK which increased during and after the protest movement when RTHK was accused of being anti-government biased in its coverage.

The announcement along with the government’s demand for a reform of the broadcaster’s management and editorial operations following a government investigation that found deficiencies in RTHK’s editorial management and a lack of transparency in handling complaints, have raised concerns among journalist groups over further eroding media freedom in the city. [Reuters] [Radio Free Asia]

In a separate development, echoing President Xi Jinping’s remark that “Hong Kong must be governed by patriots,” during his virtual meeting with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Chinese Communist Party top advisers reaffirmed the need of reforming the electoral system to ensure governance by patriots in the city. [South China Morning Post]

23 February 2021

China to step up technology-driven transformation of manufacturing

(dql) China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology revealed an action plan for the years 2021 to 2023 to advance and expand the internet of things in traditional manufacturing in an attempt to modernize the sector and boost the global competitiveness of “Made-in-China” products. The three-year plan provides for strengthening infrastructure by deep technology penetration and by establishing 30 factories fully connected by 5G technology in ten major industries. It also will set up more IoT platforms, aiming at three to five internationally-known providers by 2023.

Under the previous 2018-2020 plan, four national pilot projects along with more than 250 smaller demonstration projects with investments totaling nearly 11 billion USD were selected. [South China Morning Post]

The action plan comes at a time when Chinese manufacturers are confronted with rising labor costs and preferential tax treatment cancellations leading to companies moving to cheaper Asian countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia. 


23 February 2021

China: Chinese clergy ordered active promotion of “Sinicization” of religion 

(dql) Codifying rules already in place as supervisory guidelines as national regulations, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs released the “Measures for the Administration of Religious Personnel” new national regulations. 

Among others, the “Measures”, which will enter into force in May, require religious leaders, clergy and religious teachers to actively promote the Party’s “Sinicization” policy to bring religions under party control and to adopt them to Chinese traditions and culture. Furthermore, clergy are not allowed to accept overseas appointments or engage in religious activities that would pose a threat to the country’s national security. They must comply with a detailed registration process and can only serve one congregation at any one time.

As national regulations with more political weight and legitimacy, the “Measures” signal the CCP’s unabated determination to bring religions under its control though “Sinicisation,” in defiance of growing international criticism of a crackdown on religions in China. [South China Morning Post] [China Digital Times]

23 February 2021

China: New regulation on internet publishing enters into force

(dql) A new regulation of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), China’s top internet regulator, has entered into force this week which expands the range of topics for which bloggers and influencers are required to obtain government-approved credential to produce and post content. Besides the traditional sensitive topics such as politics and the military, the new regulation now also includes health, economic, education and judicial matters. 

While according to the CAC the aim of the new regulation is “to standardize and steer public accounts and information service platforms to be more self-aware in keeping the correct direction of public opinion,” critics view it as the latest move of the Chinese government to tighten its control over the internet, in line with other measures and campaigns of censorship and surveillance accelerated over the past years under President Xi Jinping’s concept of ‘digital sovereignty’. [AP] [TechTheLead]

Earlier this month, Clubhouse, an on-invitation only US social media app offering virtual rooms for non-recorded discussions has been made inaccessible in China after it saw a sudden rise in Chinese users discussing politically sensitive topics such as human rights in Xinjiang and Hongkong and Taiwan’s political status. [AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]

Freedom House’s ‘Freedom in the World 2020’ report concluded for China that “[i]nternet censorship and surveillance reached new extremes during the year,” in 2019, with restriction “placed on apolitical social media platforms,” while “more ordinary users faced account closures and criminal prosecutions for political, social, religious, and humorous speech.” [Freedom House]

16 February 2021

Chinese company threatens international arbitration over delayed CPEC project

(lm) Against the larger backdrop of the slow progress being made on implementing projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2], a Chinese company has threatened to take a Pakistani state-owned company to court for creating hurdles in the commissioning of an energy project.

The Chinese company in December last year completed construction work on the Matiari–Lahore transmission line, a $2.1 billion transmission line that is supposed to transmit electricity to northern Pakistan. Delivered under the build–own–operate–transfer (BOOT) method, the Chinese company will hand over the infrastructure to Pakistan 25 years after commissioning. However, Pakistan’s National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) refused to approve the documents required the commissioning after it had experienced oscillation during trials. [The News International]


16 February 2021

Mekong river level remains low

(nd) Reportedly, the water level of the Mekong River dropped to a worrying low, which could at least partly be attributed to outflow restrictions from Chinese hydropower dams upstream, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC). Low rainfall and dams on the Lower Mekong also contributed to the low level. Level fluctuation affect fish migration, agriculture and transportation, on which nearly 70 million people rely for their livelihoods.

Last year, China agreed to share dam data with the MRC, and the member countries Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. China notified that following construction the flow will be normalized by January 25. Following a brief rise, the level dropped again in February. [Bangkok Post]

16 February 2021

Non-claimant states to patrol in South China Sea 

(nd) Amid growing tension in the disputed waterway, two US aircraft carrier strike groups and a French nuclear attack submarine accompanied by a support ship recently patrolled in the South China Sea. According to a report in early January, Germany is considering to send a naval frigate in summer. These deployments highlight an increasing role of non-claimant states in the South China Sea, following so far not successful diplomatic efforts. For the US, it was the second dual aircraft carrier operation in about six months, emphasizing its promotion of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. US allies Japan and Australia have also participated in military exercises in the last months. A growing number of countries, including the US, Australia, Indonesia, France, Germany, and Japan, have rejected the extensive Chinese claims. China criticized the patrol as a show of force, which was detrimental to regional stability and peace, and reiterated their interest in protecting Chinese sovereignty. [Benar News]

16 February 2021

Thailand, China’s Great Wall Motors announces regional production

(nd) Great Wall Motors, a Chinese automobile manufacturer, has announced to build a regional production center for electric vehicles in Thailand. A government spokesman welcomed it as a great honor and commented it correlated the government’s BCG (Bio-Circular-Green Economy) policy, which aims to reduce fossil fuels. The company also donated 500,000 facemasks. [Bangkok Post]


16 February 2021

Philippines: Military seek to deploy more assets to South China Sea

(nd) As a reaction towards a newly passed Chinese Law, the Philippine military commander announced to deploy more assets to the South China Sea to safeguard fishermen. In January, China’s National People’s Congress passed a Law, which places the coast guard under military command and allows it to open fire on foreign boats in the disputed waterways. [See also AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1] Earlier, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced not to file a protest against the law before the United Nations. [See also AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2

China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, which was rejected in a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in 2016. China never recognized the ruling. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte did not enforce it but was seeking closer ties to China, distancing himself from traditional ally the United States. Only in 2020, Duterte spoke before the UN General Assembly and stated the ruling was “beyond compromise” and already “part of international law.” [Benar News]

16 February 2021

China, Cambodia to suspend military exercise

(nd) The Cambodian government suspended the fourth annual, two-week military exercise with China, which was set for next month. Officially citing the need to cut spending amid the Covid-19 pandemic, some commented it was a move not to anger the new administration of US President-elect Joe Biden. Also cited were severe repercussions of a flooding in October 2020, destroying much of Cambodia’s infrastructure and food supply, causing 40 deaths. 

The deputy president of the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Eng Chhai Eang, rejected budget-related claims and stated that China paid the expenses in the last years. Rather, he referred to Cambodia’s aims to appear more neutral with respect to foreign policy. Following Western criticism of the dissolution of CNRP in 2017 and a wider crackdown on civil society, Cambodia grew closer to China, isolating itself also from investors from the West. With more investment from China, Cambodia increasingly backed China with respect to international issues, such as the dispute in the South China Sea. Although China remains the largest investor in large-scale infrastructure projects, criticism is growing with regards to the increased dependency on China as well as negative behavior of Chinese business men, such as in Sihanoukville in the south-west. China still provides military assistance to Cambodia, and despite earlier claims of Prime Minister Hun Sen to only use WHO-approved vaccines, Cambodia started inoculation on Wednesday using 1 million doses of Sinopharm donated by China. [Radio Free Asia]

16 February 2021

India, China initiate troop withdrawal along Northern, Southern Bank of Pangong Tso

(lm) After nine months of fitful progress to resolve the high-altitude border stand-off, China and India have begun pulling back frontline troops on February 10 along the southern and northern bank of Pangong Tso, a glacial lake at 4,242m. 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]. [The Guardian]

India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament on February 11 that the disengagement of troops along the glacial lake will be followed by another round of talks between top military commanders to discuss moving back soldiers from other disputed areas around the frontier. Further elaborating, the minister said the two sides had agreed to dismantle defense structures they had built on both sides of the lake, where Chinese troops are occupying an eight kilometer stretch of land once patrolled exclusively by Indian forces [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. [The Straits Times]

Since their eighth round of talks, both sides had been considering a reciprocal disengagement plan for the North Bank of Pangong Tso that involved creating no-patrol zones, pulling back tanks and artillery, and using drones to verify the withdrawal [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. However, in the weeks later, Beijing had 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.

Beyond the Pangong Tso, however, other friction points are yet to be addressed. A case in point is the Depsang Plains, a high-altitude plain at the northwest portion of the disputed Aksai Chin region of Kashmir, that did not feature in the purported disengagement plan. Although India controls the western portion of the plains as part of Ladakh, China currently occupies 250 square kilometers of territory claimed by India [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2].

What is more, a retired Indian army chief and current Union minister earlier this month boasted that Indian forces had transgressed the LAC more times than the Chinese. This prompted Beijing to respond a day later saying that the minister had made “an unwitting confession” and that India had been making frequent attempts “to encroach on China’s territory” and was “constantly creating disputes and frictions”. [The Hindu]

Indian observers call the disengagement a clear sign of New Delhi’s “pragmatic acceptance” of its lack of military capability to alter the situation, adding that the withdrawal was happening in line with China’s 1959 claim line. Against the backdrop of the Tibetan uprising, China’s then Prime Minister Zhou Enlai had proposed that both countries each withdraw their forces 20 kilometers from the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and defined this line as the “the so-called McMahon Line in the east and the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west”. According to Indian observers, through its intrusions since last May, China has already reached the 1959 claim line in Depsang and north of Pangong Tso. [The Economic Times]


16 February 2021

China protests against Canada-initiated declaration against hostage diplomacy

(dql) Amid already highly strained relations between China and Canada, Ottawa on Monday launched the “Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations” calling on “all States to refrain from arbitrary arrest, detention, or sentencing to exercise leverage over foreign governments in the context of State-to-State relations.”

While the declaration does not specifically name any country, it is widely seen as targeting especially China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. 59 countries thus far have signed the declaration, including besides Canada, the US, the UK, the vast majority of the member states of the European Union, Japan and Australia. However, only a few countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America countries are participating in the initiative. [Sydney Morning Herald] [Government of Canada]

The Chinese embassy in Canada was quick to strongly object declaration and lodged solemn representations with Canada. [Global Times]

16 February 2021

China: EU’s top trading partner in 2020 and growing Covid-19 vaccine provider

(dql) According to data by the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat reveal that China has surpassed the US as the EU’s top trading partner in 2020, with exports of EU goods to China totaling 202.5 billion Euro, a rise by 2.2%, and imports worth 383.5 billion Euro up 5.6%. At the same EU trade with the rest of the world saw a sharp drop, down 9.4% for exports, and down 11.6% for imports compared with 2019. Meanwhile, transatlantic trade was hard hit by the pandemic, with exports of European goods to the US dropping by 8.2% year-on-year, while imports fell 13.2%. [Quartz]

Meanwhile, Hungary is the first EU member state to receive Chinese Covid-19 vaccine after a shipment of 550.000 vaccine doses developed by Chinese state-owned Sinopharm has arrived in Budapest this week. Sinopharm is expected to deliver a total of 5 million doses over the next four months to treat 2.5 million people in the country of about 10 million.

With its purchase of Chinese vaccine, Hungary is breaking from the unified EU strategy under which Brussels buys vaccines on behalf of its 27 member states. Hungarian Prime Minister cited the EU’s slow rollout of the vaccine for Budapest’s turn to China (and Russia). [AP]

For a discussion of the growing impact of China’s vaccine diplomacy in Europe against the background of frustrations over Brussels problems of securing vaccine doses contracted with manufacturers, see Bojan Pancevski in [Wall Street Journal].

16 February 2021

China-UK relations: BBC World News banned in China

(dql) China’s National Radio and Television Administration banned BBC World News from airing in the country, citing the news channel’s failure to meet the requirements to “be truthful and fair” and not “harm China’s national interests.”

The ban is retaliatory move after Ofcom, the British media watchdog, revoked the license for China Global Television Network (CGTN), an international English-language satellite news channel, to broadcast in the UK arguing that the news channel is “ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.” [Deutsche Welle] [AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]

Adding to the tension, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab echoed the US criticism of China’s role in the investigation of the World Health Organization team into the origins of the coronavirus vowing that the UK will push for “full access” to “all data.” [Politico]

Meanwhile, British lawmakers have called on the government to bar China and Russia from investments in the defense supply chain. The call follows a report of the parliamentary defense committee noted that in the past ten years six British companies with defense as a core business area had been purchased by Chinese investors. It also comes as the UK is expected to publish its Integrated Review of defense, security and foreign policy next month. [Financial Times]


16 February 2021

China-US relations: Biden/Xi phone talk amid plans for US DoD China Task Force and tensions over results of WHO coronavirus investigation

(dql) US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping marked red lines in future US-Sino bilateral relations in their first talk three weeks after the former assumed office.

Biden expressed “fundamental concerns” over Beijing’s “coercive and unfair economic practices,” as well as over the “crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan.” In response, Xi argued that Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan are “domestic affairs that concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and urged the US to “respect China’s core interests and deal with those issues prudently.”

Both leaders at the same time agreed on “shared challenges,” including “global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation.” [White House, USA] [Global Times]

The phone talk came shortly after Biden announced the creation of a new China Task Force of the Department of Defense, charged with reviewing the US approach in areas ranging from strategy and force posture to technology and intelligence, with recommendations expected to be submitted to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III within four months following its formal setup to “chart a strong path forward on China-related matters.” Headed by Ely Ratner, advisor to Austin, the task force will consist of “up to 15 uniformed and civilian DoD employees”, drawn from various section of the DOD including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, military services, combatant commands and the Intelligence Community. [Jane’s] [Department of Defense, USA]

The conversation comes also amid tensions between Washington and Beijing erupted over the coronavirus investigation of the World Health Organization’s expert group. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan expressed dissatisfaction with results of the investigation and voiced “deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them,” adding the demand that the report must be “independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government.” Prior to Sullivan’s remarks, a Wall Street Journal report cited members of the investigative team saying that Chinese authorities refused to provide investigators with raw, personalized data on more than 170 cases of Covid-19 that they have identified from the early phase of the outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. [Axios] [Wall Street Journal]

In response to Sullivan, China’s embassy in Washington hit back and accused the US of “gravely damage[ing] international cooperation on COVID-19” and of “pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO and at the WHO itself.” [9 News]

Last week, the WHO investigate team concluded its month-long probe in Wuhan stating that while new information had been obtained they, however, “had not dramatically changed the picture of the outbreak,” adding that “there was no evidence of transmission in Wuhan before December 2019,” and that is “unlikely to have leaked from a Chinese lab,” a claim propagated by the Trump administration. [BBC]

For a discussion of the tension between Biden’s attempts to reset US-Sino relations through an approach towards China containing a “mix of ‘adversarial’, ‘competitive’, and ‘cooperative’ dimensions” on the one side and domestic pressure stemming from Republican hawkishness towards Beijing on the other, see [East Asia Forum].

For findings of a research about China’s and other countries’ efforts to win the battle over the narrative of the coronavirus and its origin in social media, see [AP].

16 February 2021

China/Hong Kong: Vocal regime critics denied bail

(dql) Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appel, the city’s top court, denied bail to Jimmy Lai, owner of the Beijing-critical tabloid Apple Daily and one of the most high-profile persons charged under a national security law. Among other charges, Lai is accused of endangering national security by having used Twitter and his tabloid to call on foreign governments to impose sanctions against Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials for their involvement in implementing the national security law. He has been detained in early December last year and again on December 31 after a period of about a week on bail after the first arrest. [Hong Free Press]

In another case, bail was also denied to Wan Yiu-sing, an outspoken online radio show host who was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of “seditious intent,” voiced in comments he made during his online radio shows from August to October last year. [Radio Free Asia]

Meanwhile, 52 out of the 55 opposition activists, who were arrested in January on suspicion of subversion in the thus far biggest crackdown under the national security law had their bail extended until April. Remaining in custody in connection with other charges are founder of the now disbanded pro-democracy political party Demosisto Joshua Wong, former Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai, and Tam Tak-chi of People Party, the city’s radical democratic party. [South China Morning Post]

These bail decisions come amid rumors that cases falling under the national security will be decided by a jury, after Hong Kong’s Justice Ministry announced that the first case under national security law – a man charged with terrorism and inciting secession – will be decided by three appointed judges. This change would mark a breach with a tradition of 176 years of juridical practice under the city’s common law system. [Channel News Asia]


16 February 2021

China: Activist supporter jailed for three years

(dql) A Beijing Court has sentenced Geng Xiaonan, a Chinese publisher of cooking and lifestyle books, to threes in jail after it found her guilty of illegal business activities. Observers, however, believe that the sentence is a punishment for her open support for regime-critical law professor Xu Zhangrun who was arrested last year for publishing an article calling for China’s leaders to be held politically accountable, the release of prisoners of conscience, an end to harassment against academics. [The Guardian] [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1]

16 February 2021

China: High-ranking security apparatus official expelled from CCP

(dql) The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, China’s top anti-graft authority, announced the expulsion of former Shanghai police chief Gong Daoan from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)after finding him guilty of abusing his position for appointing officials, contracting business operations and construction projects and for engaging in unlawful profit-generating activities.

After seven years at the Ministry of Public Security’s operational technology bureau, Gong in 2017 became police chief in Shanghai, one of the four municipalities of the country, directly administered by the State Council, China’s government. With a population of more than 24 million in 2019, Shanghai is China’s most populous urban area. 

Gong, who had been under investigation since August last year and is now facing trial, joins a group of high-ranking officials in China’s security apparatus caught in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, including Zhou Yongkang, the former head of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, who oversaw in this capacity the country’s security apparatus and law enforcement institutions and who was jailed for life in 2015; Meng Hongwei, ex deputy public security minister and Interpol head sentenced last year to 13-and-a-half years in jail; former Vice Public Security Minister Sun Lijun, currently under investigation over undisclosed violations of party rules; and the former police chiefs of Chongqing city and Inner Mongolia, both expelled from the CCP in recent months and currently awaiting trial. [South China Morning Post

In another corruption case related to Sun, an executive at Tencent, China’s most valuable publicly listed company, has been detained as part of an investigation in which stands accused of illegally providing Sun with data collected by Tencent’s social-media app WeChat. [Reuters]

9 February 2021

UN Human Rights Council picks Fiji in first-ever presidential vote, over Russian and Chinese opposition

(lm) While the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) is gearing up to launch its 46th session virtually on February 22, the Pacific island nation of Fiji on January 15 won an intense and secretive geo-political battle to take control the UN’s top human rights body. Fending off last-minute challenges from Bahrain and Uzbekistan, the Pacific island nation won decisively, with support from 29 countries in an unprecedented secret ballot of the Human Rights Council’s 47 members. [New York Times]

The council’s presidency rotates each year among the regions and the candidate is typically agreed upon by a consensus within each regional group. However, this year, the regional members could not agree on a candidate, so a vote was required. In the Council, Fiji had backed investigations into reported abuses in Venezuela, the Philippines, Belarus, Syria and Yemen. Those positions had initiated a shadowy proxy battle waged by China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, which were seeking to install a more compliant candidate to avoid having their own human rights records scrutinized. [Deutsche Welle]


9 February 2021

China: Revised national security curriculum for Hong Kong schools

(dql) As part of a broader effort to reform national security education in Hong Kong in line with the national security law for Hong Kong, imposed by Beijing last summer, the city’s Education Bureau has issued new guidelines for curriculum arrangements, requiring, among others, primary school pupils to be taught the basic concepts of national security, including subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, key offenses stipulated in the national security law. Higher classes in secondary schools would receive more in-depth teaching on national security-related offenses. [Straits Time]

For a critical view on the new guidelines, see John Chan in [China Digital Times] who argues that they are aimed at “quashing political dissent in the education system and restricting critical inquiry.”

Michael C. Davis in [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief], meanwhile, provides an account on the continuous rollback of the rule of law and human rights under the national security in the “once-liberal bastion of Hong Kong.”

9 February 2021

Indonesia: Sovereign wealth fund without China

(nd) Indonesia’s sovereign wealth fund, called the Indonesia Investment Authority (INA) has appointed advisory board members and received investment commitments from Japan, US, Canada, Netherlands and Australia. Eventually, investors will be able to choose to either invest in the “master fund” or “thematic fund”, which can be a particular industry or project. The fund will be used to finance President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s infrastructure projects, with an initial volume of US$5 billion, and an eventually planned US$20 billion. China’s absence in the round of initial investors has led to the suspicion Indonesia intentionally left China out. One reason is to avoid Chinese control over key Indonesian infrastructure, although the majority sum for the projects will come from foreign capital. A second reason is the aim to diversify its portfolio by including different countries. In 2020, China was Indonesia’s second-biggest foreign investor with an investment volume of US$4.8 billion, following Singapore with US$9.8 billion, according to Indonesia’s investment board (BKPM). Since 2015, Chinese investment in Indonesia grew by 559% and included over 10,000 projects in various industries. Both reasons resonate well with an ongoing anti-China sentiment in the country.

A major obstacle for the sovereign wealth fund will be securing trust of international investors. The legal proceedings with regards to the Malaysian 1MDB fund were just settled. Also, two of Widodo’s cabinet ministers, Edhy Prabowo, former fisheries minister, and former social minister Juliari Batubara, were forced to resign over graft charges. Indonesia slipped 17 places in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index. According to analysts, it is also central to establish checks and balances, reporting guidelines and transparency mechanisms to distract investor’s worries about the management of the fund. Additionally, experts argue sovereign wealth funds are usually installed when a country has a big surplus and disposes of foreign-exchange reserves or has big natural resources, all of which is lacking in Indonesia.

About US$450 billion shall be spent on infrastructure projects through 2024, including the new capital construction in East Kalimantan, with 30% coming from national sources. [South China Morning Post]


9 February 2021

Water levels on Mekong River along Thai-Lao Border fails to bounce back

(py) End of December last year, Chinese authorities have announced to significantly reduce water levels due to equipment testing at China’s upriver Jinghong Dam. Although the equipment testing was supposed to have ended on 24th January, the water level has not been restored yet. Analysts commented the extreme low might be temporary, with China’s dry season releases usually to begin around this time of year. China has been criticized for creating water shortage for downstream countries, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, through its 11 mega-dams on the Mekong river. China agreed to share its data with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in October 2020. [Radio Free Asia] [Reuters]

9 February 2021

Pakistan’s machinery of bureaucracy slows down implementation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

(lm) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has expressed concerns over the slow progress being made on implementing projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), cautioning that the delay should not affect the strategic nature of the bilateral relationship between Islamabad and Beijing. Previously, a meeting of the cabinet body responsible for overseeing the implementation of CPEC projects, ended prematurely, because some ministries had failed to remove administrative obstacles for execution of the projects. [The Express Tribune] [Profit By Pakistan Today]

Lending further credence to the gravity of the situation, China continues to be reluctant to schedule the next meeting of CPEC’s principal decision-making body, the Joint Cooperation Committee. While both sides are certainly willing to keep the narrative of continued progress alive, Beijing and Islamabad are embroiled in their most serious disagreement so far, causing some observers to believe that the agreement was derailing.

A case in point is the debate about the construction of the Mainline-1 (ML-1) project, the single-largest project to date under CPEC which involves upgrading and track-doubling railway lines in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. In light of the strategic importance of the project, Islamabad expected Beijing to provide up to 90 percent of the financing, further assuming that China was ready to accept a 20-years repayment period. However, citing Pakistan’s weakening financial position, China sought additional guarantees before sanctioning a $6 billion loan for the construction of the ML-1 project, and proposed a mix of commercial and concessional loan, notwithstanding Islamabad’s desire to secure the cheapest lending [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].

9 February 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Guyana scraps plan for Taiwan embassy over China’s pressure

(zh) Bowing to pressure from China, Guyana called off an agreement with Taiwan on opening a representative office in Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, just hours after Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced signing of the agreement. [Focus Taiwan] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan 1]

Rich in oil and located next to Venezuela, a major Chinese ally against the United State in South America, Guyana has become an important country for China. Both countries established diplomatic relations in 1972 and has been maintaining close ties. Following the signing of the agreement, China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to urge Guyana to stick to “One China” policy and to “earnestly take steps to correct their mistakes”. Within hours, Guyana’s Foreign Ministry said it adheres to “One China” principle and terminated the agreement with Taiwan, citing “miscommunication” about the agreement.

Taiwan strongly condemned the Chinese government’s interference, accusing it of bullying Taiwan in the international society. [CNN] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan, 2 in Chinese] [PTS, in Chinese] [Reuters]

The US is worried about China’s deepening influence in the Caribbean and Latin America, with both regions traditionally hosted the biggest bloc of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies. However, facing Chinese fierce isolation, three Latin American countries, El Salvador, the Dominican Republican, and Panama, had cut the diplomatic ties with Taiwan within two years. Currently, Taiwan only has formal diplomatic relations with 14 countries, including four of the Caribbean and five Latin American countries. [NPR]

Meanwhile, two Chinese J-16 jet fighters entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) for a fifth consecutive day on Monday, marking the 34th day so far this year that Chinese aircraft intruded Taiwan’s ADIZ. [Taiwan News]

9 February 2021

China-UK relations: Ofcom revokes CGTN’s license

(zh) The British media watchdog, Ofcom, revoked the license for China Global Television Network (CGTN), an international English-language satellite news channel, to broadcast in the UK arguing that the news channel is “ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party”. [BBC] [CNN]

In response, China threatened to take retaliatory measures, accusing the UK of “political oppression” and demanding Britain “correct its mistakes” on Friday. [Daily Mail]

9 February 2021

China-Japan relations: High-level consultation on maritime affairs

(zh) China and Japan held the 12th round of high-level consultation on maritime affairs via a video call to discuss the bilateral consultation mechanism as well as maritime defense, maritime law enforcement and security, and marine economy, with both sides agreeing on maritime search cooperation between the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center and the Japan Coast Guard, combating maritime crimes and promoting exchanges between law enforcement officers. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China, in Chinese]

The meeting came amid rising concerns in Japan over China’s new coast guard law which enter into force on February 1 and which permits Chinese coast guards to use military weapons in the waters China claims, when “national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.” [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4] [Japan Times 1]

Days after the consultation, two Chinese coast guard vessels entered the Japanese territorial waters near Diaoyu Islands, the fifth time this year that Chinese vessels have entered Japanese waters and the first under the new coast guard law which came into effect on February 1. [Japan Times 2] [Mainichi]

9 February 2021

China-EU relations: First high-level environment and climate dialogue

(zh) Chinese Vice Premier, Han Zheng, and the Executive Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, held the first High-Level Environment and Climate Dialogue via a videoconference call, in which Han promised to peak China’s carbon dioxide emission by 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2060.

In response, Timmermans welcomed China’s position on climate change affirmed the EU’s willingness to expand and deepen bilateral dialogue and cooperation in the field of environment and climate and to give full play to the role of multilateral mechanisms. [Xinhua]

In an apparent attempt to push the EU away from the US, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, meanwhile, called on the European Union to “make policies independently and autonomously” during a video conference with the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who in response said that EU had “strong bonds” with the US, while stressing the need to discuss issues where Beijing and Brussels have disagreements and expressing concerns about Hong Kong and Xinjiang. [EEAS] [Politico]

9 February 2021

China-Australia relations: Australian anchor of Chinese news channel host on spying charges

(zh) Chinese-born Australian anchor Cheng Lei of China’s state-owned broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN) was formally arrested after months of detention on the charges of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas.” [CNN]             

The arrest comes amid strained China-Australia relations. Last week, China issued a warning to students studying Australia to be aware of a “serious threat” to their safety as “successive vicious incidents of overseas students being attacked in many places in Australia”. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has sent a similar alert in June, urging its students to “be cautious in choosing to go or to return to Australia for their studies”. [South China Morning Post 1]

Since last year, the two countries have been locked trade disputes which include Chinese bans and trade restrictions on Australian imports of coal, sugar, barley, lobster, wine, copper, and log timber. A letter of Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan inviting his Chinese counterpart to kick start the discussion on trade dispute was left un-responded. Based on the preliminary data released last week, Australia’s total goods exported to China last year reached USD 110.9 billion, only 2.16% less than 2019 despite China’s tariffs and trade restrictions. [South China Morning Post 2] [South China Morning Post 3]


9 February 2021

China provides 10 million vaccine doses to COVAX

(zh) China decided to provide 10 million doses of vaccines to COVAX, a global vaccine sharing distributing scheme backed by World Health Organization (WHO) and the Vaccine Alliance Gavi, an international organization aiming to improve the access to vaccines in poor countries. The WHO is reviewing the applications of three Chinese companies to join the vaccine scheme, including Sinovac Biotech, China National Pharmaceutical Group (CNPG), and CanSino Biotech. The decisions on the approval of Sinovac and CNPG’s vaccines will be released in March. [Reuters]

Apart from COVAX, China also sent half a million doses of vaccines to Pakistan, which is the first batch of Chinese vaccine aid to another country. With Chinese vaccine donation, Pakistan has stated vaccinated frontline health workers. Pakistan also claims China-made vaccine is ineffective to the elderly above 60 and will exclude elderly from the mass vaccination campaign with Chinese vaccine. The Chinese vaccine aids have also arrived in Cambodia and Laos. [DAWN] [DNA] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China 1]

Other 53 developing counties, including Brunei, Nepal, the Philippines, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Palestine, Belarus, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Equatorial Guinea will also receive Chinese-made vaccines as an aid. Vaccines made by CNPG and Sinovac have been exported to countries including the UAE, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, and Chile. Serbia has started vaccination with Chinese-imported vaccines.

With the US thus far being a “non-factor” in Southeast Asia’s early vaccine diplomacy, China is eager to push its vaccine diplomacy also in this region. Shortly before Biden’s inauguration, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had toured Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines with promises of Chinese vaccine. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China 2] [CSIS]

9 February 2021

China-US arms control framework on the way?

(zh) The United States extended the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia for five years through 2026 and announced that it will pursue an arms control framework involving China, too. In response, China welcomed the bilateral agreement, adding that Beijing is ready to conduct bilateral dialogues on issues related to strategic security with other nuclear-weapon states, including Russia and the US, marking a major shift in policy, as Beijing thus far has shown no interest in joining a nuclear arms agreement. [South China Morning Post] [Reuters]

9 February 2021

China-US relations: Biden describes China as “the most serious competitor” 

(zh) In his first foreign policy address, US president Joe Biden called China “the most serious competitor” and vowed to confront China in multiple areas including what he called “economic abuses”, human rights, intellectual property, and global governance. Biden also added the US welcomes cooperation with China when “it is in America’s interest to do so.” Biden also told made clear that he would not take a softer stance towards Beijing than Trump, warning China would face “extreme competition”. [Foreign Policy] ][Financial Times] [South China Morning Post]

In an earlier statement, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration’s priority is to “dealing with China’s trade abuses harming American workers”. He also stressed China’s intellectual property theft and warned China’s collection of healthcare data and DNA of Americans would pose “serious risks” to American’s privacy and US economic and national security. [Fox News]

On the same day, in his first call with China’s top foreign policy official Yang Jeichi, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US would “stand up for democratic values and hold Beijing to account”. He also said the US would press China on Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan issue, and urge Beijing to condemn Myanmar coup. Yang stressed both countries should “manage their domestic affairs well”, saying Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet issues are “China’s internal affairs” and allow no foreign interference. With regards to Taiwan, which “bears on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, the US should stick to the One-China principle and the three Sino-U.S. joint communiques. [Reuters] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

In a latest development, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Nimitz carrier strike groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea on Tuesday, involving dozens of warships and at least 120 fighter aircraft. The drills came only days after an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer US warship sailed throught the Taiwan strait. [CNN] [Aljazeera]


9 February 2021

Myanmar: Coup unfolding

(nd) Following the military’s takeover last Monday, actions of civil disobedience have increased with some wearing red ribbons in protest, medical workers striking, raising the three-finger salute known from the Thai pro-democracy protesters. This marks another extension of the MilkTeaAlliance, an anti-authoritarian hashtag, which was prompted during Hong Kong protests in 2019, and spread to include Taiwan and Thailand, occasionally India over border disputes with China.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres pledged “to make sure that this coup fails” by gathering enough international support. Due to a veto by China, the UN Security Council did not agree on a joint statement. The Group of Seven major economic powers condemned the action and urged the military to reverse it. The G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.

Meanwhile, the police filed charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, which include breaching import and export laws, and possession of unlawful communication devices, and announced her detention until February 15. President Win Myint was charged for violating protocols to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The access to social media services was blocked for the sake of “stability”. Many used VPNs to circumvent the blockade. The high numbers of users and spread of information are a testament to the liberalization of the telecom sector and press freedoms reached in recent years. [Nikkei Asia] [Reuters] [BBC 1] [South China Morning Post 1]

In the past, China has invested time in both forging ties with civilian and military leaders in Myanmar, although the military is the institution most suspicious of Chinese influence in the country and their support of armed ethnic rebels in the North. Western powers have been reluctant so far to impose sanctions. The US have officially labelled the action as coup, which enables further steps to impose sanctions. Japanese citizens have protested in support of Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi, but the government was hesitant to comment on the imposition of sanctions. India did not use the word “coup” but urged to return to the rule of law and democracy. In an effort to counter China’s influence in the region, both countries maintained balanced relationships to both civil and military leaders.

Japan has an increased economic interest and entertains a developed strategic partnership with the military. India in turn needs the Burmese military to contain separatist movements in the Northeast of India and is believed to be the key protector of a US$1.4 billion infrastructure investment to connect India to its regional neighbor states. This makes them unlikely to join US sanctions but rather eyeing for a compromise. With respect to China’s more lenient stand on human rights issues, a further push towards China through another round of sanctions is feared. Past impositions of sanctions have not been successful. Therefore, US reactions to the coup will be the first test for the administration of Joe Biden and his credibility, closely monitored by China taking advantage of possible friction between the West and Myanmar. [South China Morning Post 2] [Foreign Policy] [The Atlantic] [The Diplomat] [Foreign Affairs]

According to observers, the coup happened less for strategic purposes but rather for personal calculations and pride. With a constitution designed to ensure military influence on the country with a guaranteed quarter of parliamentary seats reserved for the military blocking any amendments to it, Suu Kyi’s latest electoral success might have been one too many. When she was hindered from becoming President in 2015 due to her marriage to a foreigner, she herself created the title “State Counselor”. Both in 2015 and now, she had an immense electoral victory, leaving only few seats to the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Following the military’s claim of electoral fraud, she refused to convene a special session of Parliament for discussion. The independent election commission was also quick to dismiss the complaints, making the rationale of a power struggle very credible. Additionally, Min Aung Hlaing is said to have strong civilian political ambitions, possibly for serving as a President, but was facing retirement this year. An NLD-controlled parliament would have been unlikely to elect him. His former position of Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces would have been appointed by the President in consultation with the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC), reminding the military of another potential power loss. Also, Min Aung Hlaing faces international accusations with respect to the crimes against the Rohingyas.

Additionally, the NLD since 2015 sought to reform the 2008 constitution, which safeguards military prerogatives. Last year’s efforts to propose constitutional amendments to limit or revoke these privileges were rejected entirely through the military’s de-facto veto in parliament. It is unclear if the NLD would have been able to push through such amendments but the latest elections did enable them to succeed in former USDP strongholds.

The military might aim to justify the coup as a support of democracy by fighting electoral fraud, which runs against the assessment of international observers. The military has not yet provided evidence to support its claim. Still, for that rationale, the military might point to the single-member plurality voting system, meaning the most voted for candidate wins irrespective of the vote share. This system makes it harder for ethnic and small parties to succeed. It might present leverage for the military to garner support from ethnic minorities, which were promoting the proportional representation system at the latest election.  [Asia Times]  [East Asia Forum 1] [East Asia Forum 2]

Despite the coup, the signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) announced they will continue to implement the peace process with the military government. Experts are still worried about the fate of the ethnic minorities in Rakhine state as well as the Rohingya refugees. [Irrawaddy] [South China Morning Post 3]

Although the access to the internet was blocked increasingly, thousands of protesters gathered nationwide, making them the largest protest since 2007, when thousands of monks demonstrated against the military regime in the so-called Saffron Revolution. The police used water cannons, rubber bullets and fired warning shots into the air. On Monday, a general strike was called, which was followed by tens of thousands in Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay and Yangon. The protesters include teachers, lawyers, bank officers and government workers. The military regime imposed a curfew and a ban of gatherings of more than 5 people in a beginning crackdown on protesters. [Asia Times 2] [BBC 2] [Radio Free Asia]

Myanmar saw military coups in 1962 and 1988; in the 1990 election the military rejected the landslide victory of the NLD and put Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years. Her once excellent international reputation suffered significantly over her defense of the military’s violence against Rohingya Muslims.

9 February 2021

China: Human rights lawyer’s license revoked

(dql) Chinese human rights lawyer Ren Quanniu, who represented one of 12 Hong Kong activists who attempted to flee by boat to Taiwan in August last year, has been stripped of his license to practice on grounds of “causing negative impact on society” by remarks made while defending Falun Gong practitioners in 2018.

Ren is known for taking up politically charged human rights cases in China, including trials against Falun Gong members and, most recently, citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who was handed down a four years imprisonment verdict in December for reporting about the city of Wuhan during the early stages of coronavirus pandemic. [Aljazeera]

In an earlier development, Lu Siwei, another lawyer who worked with Ren on that case, had his license revoked, also for exerting “negative impact on society.” [AP]

9 February 2021

China: Social media app providing virtual rooms for political discussions blocked, reporters arrested 

(dql) Clubhouse, an on-invitation only US social media app offering virtual rooms for non-recorded discussions has been made inaccessible in China after it saw a sudden rise in Chinese users over the past week discussing politically sensitive topics such as human rights in Xinjiang and Hongkong and Taiwan’s political status. [BBC]

Meanwhile, prominent Hong Kong radio host Edmund Wan Yiu-sing was arrested on charges of actions with “seditious intention,” punishable with imprisonment of two years. He is accused of intentionally fomenting “hatred or contempt,” and “disaffection against the HKSAR government and the government of the People’s Republic of China,” while hosting and talking on an internet program in summer and autumn last year. In February 2019, Wan started an online radio show to discuss the anti-government protest movement and to solicit donations to support young Hong Kong protesters fleeing to Taiwan. [Hong Kong Free Press] [South China Morning Post]

In another case, Chinese-born Australian citizen Cheng Lei, detained since August last year, has now been formally arrested on suspicion of espionage. Cheng was an anchor for China Global Television Network, the state-owned English-language news channel. Her arrest has added fuel to already strained Sino-Australian relations. [CNN]

2 February 2021

Chinese survey vessel data in South China Sea analyzed

(nd) According to analyses of ship data conducted by Nikkei, Chinese survey vessels increased the scope of research into foreign countries exclusive economic zones (EEZ). According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, prior consent is necessary, which was not sought in the cases identified. The automatic identification system data from 32 Chinese survey vessels for 12 months until November 2020 were analyzed. The data that is collected by survey vessels can both be used for civilian and military purposes, and is also useful for submarine operations. Specifically, increased action was registered near Guam, which has rich resources of cobalt, manganese and other seabed minerals. Given the US base in Guam, the conducted surveys seem to be rather security linked. Sometimes, survey vessels are accompanied by the Chinese Coats guard, sparking further tension. According to the International Maritime Organization, the US has 44, Japan 23 and China 64 registered survey vessels built in or after 1990.

This comes amid other Chinese actions to increase its influence over the Asia Pacific region. In September 2019, China established diplomatic relations with the Solomon Islands and Kiribati. The encroachment in the EEZs of Southeast Asian countries is registered almost on a daily basis. On the basis of historic rights, China claims almost the entirety of the disputed waters for itself, which was rejected by an international tribunal ruling in 2016. [Nikkei Asia]

2 February 2021

Malaysia, China to tighten relations 

(nd) While the economic cooperation between China and Malaysia is largely seen as successful, Malaysia is likely to be pulled under tougher Chinese influence. China remains a mayor infrastructure investor and presents a possibility to help the heavily contracted economy amid the ongoing pandemic. With regards to Covid-19, China offered to place Malaysia on its vaccine priority list.

In light of this support, a declaration following Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit stated both countries’ opposition to hegemony and maritime big power presence, but supporting multilateralism, which was a clear allusion to US security policy in the South China Sea. This Chinese pull came amid an unreliable US during the presidency of former president Donald Trump. While Malaysia, as other ASEAN members, is reluctant to being positioned between the US and China, the support China can give amongst instable politics is more than the US is offering currently. [Nikkei Asia]

2 February 2021

Philippines files diplomatic complaint against China’s new coast guard law

(nd) China passed a law placing the coast guard under military command, giving it authority to open fire against foreign vessels in the South China Sea. The Philippines filed a diplomatic complaint. Earlier, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin commented the passage of laws in China was “none of our business”. His reverse came after news reports about Philippine fishermen being blocked by the Chinese coast guard to enter fishing grounds in the Spratly island chain. President Rodrigo Duterte was called upon to firmly “denounce China’s bullying immediately” and all ASEAN members to take multilateral steps against China’s aggression. In a statement on social media on Monday, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said “forces in the Philippines” had “fabricated and spread relentlessly fake news”, and it law has been “misinterpreted”, although it was “a normal domestic legislative activity.” [Radio Free Asia]

In the disputed waters, China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, overlapping with the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan. China’s claims were rejected in a tribunal ruling in 2016, which was emphasized prominently by Duterte last year for the first time. ASEAN and China are negotiating so far unsuccessfully for a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. [Radio Free Asia]

In a call, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reassured Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin of their defense support with respect to the South China Sea, even in the event of an attack. He called China’s latest law a “threat of war”. Blinken reinforced the administration of Joe Biden’s rejects China’s claims in the disputed waters. [Reuters

’s status as a world leader.” [Radio Free Asia]

2 February 2021

China, Philippines to cancel development contract

(nd) A contract to develop Sangley Point International Airport by a consortium of China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC), which is blacklisted by the US, and Philippine MacroAsia Corp., was cancelled due to “various deficiencies” in required documents. The project volume was US$10 billion. In September 2020, the Duterte administration insisted on pursuing the project despite US sanctions on CCCC and 23 other Chinese firms and individuals for being involved in the creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea. Then, it was emphasized that Duterte would “not follow the directives of the Americans because we are a free and independent nation, and we need investors from China.” The recent decision to cancel the contract was commented to have no connection to the US decision. Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the Philippines and signed a deal to build a cargo railway, which will connect former US base at Subic with the former US air base Clark International Airport. In 2018, the Philippines and China signed 29 bilateral deals with respect to infrastructure projects forming part of Duterte’s “build, build, build” initiative. [Radio Free Asia][See also AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2] [The Diplomat]

On a separate occasion, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana referred to the US “as a stabilizing force in the Indo-Pacific region and a counter-balance to China”, adding that 2021 promises “a new era for the U.S.-Philippines relations under a new U.S. president who seeks to reclaim America’s status as a world leader.” [Radio Free Asia]

2 February 2021

Maldives, China revive bilateral talks

(lm) On January 26, Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Khaleel via video link co-hosted the 7th round of China-Maldives diplomatic consultations with China’s vice foreign minister. The meeting comes after Khaleel together with the country’s finance minister last November met with China’s envoy to the Maldives to talk about economic recovery and development cooperation. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China] []

Ongoing talks between China and the Maldives come at a time, when Male is said of have been drawn deep into China’s so-called debt-trap diplomacy, as the country 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].

The majority of these loan agreements were signed during the five-year tenure of now-incarcerated president Abdulla Yameen. At the time, China was embarking on its grand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and therefore, financed several major projects between 2013 and 2018 [see e.g., AiR No. 39, September/2019, 4].

2 February 2021

Pakistan, China to form joint parliamentary committee to oversee CPEC

(lm) Pakistan and China have agreed to set up a joint parliamentary committee for effective oversight of projects under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement. The decision was made during a virtual meeting between the speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly and the chairman of China’s National People’s Congress on January 27. [Dawn 1]

Against the larger backdrop of mounting security concerns for Chinese interests in Pakistan, the Chinese delegation also afresh pressed Islamabad to crack down on ethnic separatist groups in the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh to protect projects linked to the CPEC [see also AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].

Coming as it does on the heels of a telephone conversation between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi last month [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1], the meeting lends further credence to arguments that see Beijing significantly stepping up its efforts to boost the CPEC [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].

But what is more, the meeting also comes after members of the opposition staged a walkout from a Senate session on January 22 after what they perceived as the lack of a satisfactory response from the government on key issues related to the CPEC Authority. [Dawn 2]

In this connection, both countries also established the China-Pakistan Agricultural and Industrial Cooperation Information Platform to synergize efforts of their agriculture sectors and related industries. [The Express Tribune]

2 February 2021

New India-China border clash shows simmering tensions

(lm) Indian and Chinese troops have clashed along their disputed Himalayan border. While details about the latest skirmish remain foggy, Indian media outlets and independent military analysts said on January 25 that the clash occurred earlier this month in northern Sikkim, a mountainous Indian state sandwiched between Bhutan and Nepal. [New York Times]

Although no fatalities were reported and both sides remained tight-lipped, reports of a clash show that tensions are still simmering between the two Asian giants. This month satellite imagery revealed that Chinese forces have been slowly but steadily cutting away small pieces of Indian territory, constructing a new village on what had been an empty hillside two years ago in Arunachal Pradesh, another mountainous Indian border state. [Foreign Policy]

As Beijing quietly intensifies pressure against India, India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has condemned China for massing troops and building infrastructure at the countries’ disputed border, describing the deadly brawl in the Galwan Valley last year [see AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] as having “profoundly disturbed” bilateral relations. [South Asia Monitor 2] [South China Morning Post]

2 February 2021

China-US space competition: Commander of US Space Command demands space superiority 

(dql) General James Dickinson, Commander of the US Space Command, has laid out his strategic vision of an US space supremacy in document in which he warned that US competitors have “turned space, a once peaceful environment, into a warfighting domain,” adding that the growth of China’s and Russia’s “counter-space arsenals presents an immediate and serious threat to U.S., allied, and partner space activities.” He stressed the need to achieve “space superiority,” to set “the conditions to win in conflict across all domains.” [Space Command, USA]

For a brief discussion of the recent achievements of China’s space program and their value of for Beijing’s “public opinion warfare” both within the country’s and overseas, see [Space News] 


2 February 2021

India, China using vaccine diplomacy to deepen bilateral ties around the world

(lm) China will be providing 300,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm under grand assistance to Nepal, Beijing’s embassy to Kathmandu announced on February 1. [The Himalayan Times]

Timing and context of the announcement are noteworthy: As part of its unprecedented Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) campaign, India ten days earlier had sent one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Kathmandu, marking the launch of nationwide inoculation drive in the Himalayan country. Following in the wake of the sixth meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission, the gesture came at a time when bilateral relations between India and Nepal continue to see an upwards trajectory, after they had initially derailed in May last year [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]. [Reuters]

But what is more, they also take place against the larger backdrop of determined efforts by India to utilize its vast manufacturing capacity to bolster bilateral ties. While commercial overseas shipments are likely to start around March, India has already shipped free consignments of Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom) doses to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, and Nepal, as well as to its key Indian Ocean partners, Mauritius and Seychelles. Sri Lanka began receiving vaccine consignments earlier this month and Afghanistan will do so after it has completed regulatory clearance procedures. [The Diplomat]

The shipments reflect one of India’s unique strengths: It is home to a robust vaccine industry, including the Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine makers. The country, therefore, has a long track record of supplying medicines and vaccines to the rest of the world, especially to low- and middle-income countries. [Washington Post] [Financial Times]

These efforts put India in direct competition with China, which has made no secret that vaccine distribution is wrapped up in its broader geopolitical ambitions. For it has explicitly included vaccine distribution in its broader Health Silk Road initiative, which aims to bolster China’s international soft power. To this end, Chinese companies have made an aggressive international push to sell their COVID-19 vaccines, with Sinopharm and Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac signing deals with more than a dozen countries. [Observer Research Foundation] [South China Morning Post]

A case in point, China’s “all-weather friend” Pakistan received on February 1 a free shipment of half a million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, as Islamabad is set to launch its vaccination drive this week, starting with frontline health workers. What is more, Pakistan is due to receive a further 1.1 million doses from China by the end of this month; up to 6.8 million doses are due to arrive before the end of March. [Al Jazeera] [The Straits Times]


2 February 2021

China: Advancing military aircraft

(dql) A series of articles in the National Interests provides insights into China’s advancement in military aircraft and into the discussion on shifting commands concepts within the US air force.

The development of China’s new H-20 stealth bomber aims to put Beijing in a position to threat critical U.S. assets and infrastructure beyond the second island chain in ways that are either difficult or impossible with the China’s current H-6 bombers. According to observers, the H-20 bomber resembles Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider bomber with an operational range of minimum 8.500 kilometers, and possibly as much as 12.000 km, and will carry a nuclear-capable payload of at least ten tons, with the possible option of up to four hypersonic cruise missiles. [National Interest 1]

The bomber is expected to enter service sometime in the mid 2020s, but it remains unclear how many models the PLAAF wants, and how quickly. Given the PLAAF’s recent efforts to procure upgraded H-6 bombers, which are expected to fly into the 2030s, it is believed that China’s military is not planning with large H-20 shipments anytime soon.

In the area of military drones, China showcased the Gongi-11 drone during a Chinese National Day parade, revealing a blended wing-body stealth exterior which resembles in its design construction a B-2, B-21 or RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone. [National Interest 2]

As China’s and the US air force both plan and prepare for a possible military clash, David Axe in [National Interest 3] sheds light into the discussion within the US air force on adopting the ‘mission command’ concept.

Mission command was developed by the Prussian army as mission-type tactics doctrine, which combines centralized intent with decentralized execution subsidiarity and promotes freedom and speed of action, and initiative, within defined constraints.

2 February 2021

China-US tech competition: Partial Sino-US decoupling in technology inevitable and preferable, US report says

(dql) A new report of the China Strategy Group is calling for some degree of decoupling of the US and China’s tech sectors, arguing that – given an “asymmetric” competition in which China plays by a different set of rules that allow it to benefit from corporate espionage, illiberal surveillance, and a blurry line between its public and private sector,” – “[s]ome degree of disentangling is both inevitable and preferable.” It further explains: “In fact, trends in both countries — and many of the tools at our disposal — inherently and necessarily push toward some degree of bifurcation,” warning that the alternative to bifurcation would be a world in which China’s non-democratic norms have “won.”

Among the solutions the group is proposing are “multilateral initiatives, including an alliance of democracies called the “T-12” to coordinate responses to tech competition. T-12 countries would include beside the US, Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Finland, India, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Sweden. The group also suggest to create an “International Technology Finance Corporation,” as well as “multilateral trust zones” in which integration can be safely achieved. [Axios 1] [Axios 2, for the full text of the report]

The China Strategy Group was formed in July last year “with the purpose of tackling the most difficult questions regarding the United States’ competitiveness with China on technology.” Among the members are China scholars and influential voices from the US tech industry, including Schmidt, former CEO of Google; Jared Cohen, CEO of Jigsaw, a tech incubator created by Google, and former adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton; Richard Fontaine, the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, whose co-founder Kurt Campbell now occupies a top position on Biden’s National Security Council; and Liz Economy, China scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.  

Meanhwile, the Biden administration has decided to delay until May the implementation of a Trump-era executive order in November that banned US companies from investing in Chinese companies believed to be linked to the Chinese military, adding that the delay applies to companies “whose name closely matches, but does not exactly match, the name of a Communist Chinese military company.” The original deadline was January 28. [Reuters]

2 February 2021

China among top early priorities of US foreign policy under President Biden

(dql) According to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan dealing with China will be among the key early priorities for the new Biden administration, next to Iran and Afghanistan. He cautioned that the US needs to be “prepared to act, as well to impose costs,” on Beijing for its actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. With regards to China trade and technology abuses he conceded that the US and its  allies in Europe currently “don’t have entirely aligned perspectives on every one of these issues,” adding that “China is right at the top of the list of things that we’ve got to work together on and where there is work to do to get fully aligned.” [Aljazeera]

Sullivan’s remarks came amid military drills that Beijing conducted over three days last week in response the entry of a US aircraft carrier strike group into the South China Sea. The exercises involved both land-based long-range missile launchers, and warships and naval docking ships that can be used for a beach invasion. [VoA] [International Business Times]

In a latest development, Chinese fighter aircraft, including a Y-8 reconnaissance plane, two J-10 fighter jets and two J-11, and a US reconnaissance aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Sunday past weekend. [Reuters]

2 February 2021

US-China relations: Continuity and the formulation of a new US grand strategy 

(hg) Two weeks after the inauguration of Joe Biden as US President, Sino-American relations are beginning to take shape for the foreseeable future in a way that will be definitional for both countries` future as well as for the world at large. 

While U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged both powers last week to “reset” relations for the sake of the common interests [VoA], a strong sense of continuity seems to dominate President Biden’s policy towards China according to the first impression. Notably, whereas the new US President has already communicated even with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping has not yet happened. Meanwhile, both countries have signaled messages that reflect a deep structural rivalry open for notions of a “Cold Peace” if not another form of Cold War, whose state will remain however complex and dependent on the concrete issue ranging from adversarial relations over hedged competition to partial cooperation.

On the one side, both countries have started pragmatic exchanges when their militaries held a video conference last week on the search for the remains of US prisoners of war and mutually conveyed hope for constructive mutual engagement. [Global Times 1] On the other side, both powers clearly marked their adversarial stances towards each other as reported in last week`s AiR with new Defense Secretary Austin saying: “I think China is our most challenging, our most significant challenge going forward.” [CNN]

Meanwhile, seven People’s Liberation Army warplanes [Republic World] and a US reconnaissance aircraft have entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on Sunday, after the US Indo-Pacific Command had reported on Saturday a week earlier that the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group entered the South China Sea again (see entries below). [Reuters]

As widely acknowledged, almost all core members of Team Biden stressed a remarkable degree of continuity in the new administration’s China policy including Foreign Secretary Blinken, Defense Secretary Austin, and National Security Advisor Sullivan. Given the domestic division and hostility out of which the Biden administration has emerged, this degree of continuity is stunning and only explainable as reflecting an inherently structural great power rivalry.

The structural nature of the new/old China containment policy leaning has been reflected when Commerce Secretary Raimondo initially not mentioned to continue the Trump administration’s ban on Chinese firm Huawei prompting an immediate backlash from the US Congress which forced the White House to affirm that Huawei was a “threat to the security of the [US].” [Global Times 2]

The inherently structural nature of rather adversarial bilateral relations and US and Chinese actions and words accompanying President Biden’s first days in office will arguably set the narrow and fragile frame in which cooperation is possible.

The Chinese stance has been formulated last week by China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politbureau of the CCP’s Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, who was speaking at a virtual event hosted by the National Committee on US-China Relations whose membership includes also former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger. As the highest-ranking official so far to comment on the bilateral relationship since President Biden’s inauguration Yang stressed the Chinese red lines that would have to be respected to maintain cooperation and the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and mutual benefit which cover especially affairs related to Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. [Yang Jiechi, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People`s Republic of China]  [South China Morning Post]

A spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of defense was more explicit warning that “Taiwan independence” means war, a warning Chinese analysists see not only as a warning directed to “Taiwanese independent” forces, but also to the US. [Global Times 3]

In this overall situation, the White House says to be patient in developing a “new approach” toward relations with China at a time when the two countries remain in serious “strategic competition.”  [VoA] While it is obvious that this approach will amount to a well-coordinated full-spectrum China containment policy aiming, the outlines of this approach are only just taking shape.

An indicator in terms of personal is the choice of Kurt Campbell as the coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council who has been the architect of President Obama’s Pivot to Asia indicating a coherent, differentiated and multilaterally oriented China policy. [The Business Times]

Clear is, that bilateral relations are increasingly shaped by a sense for timing with the US increasingly feeling the need to act in a closing time frame.  At the same time, political redlines might become more blazing if they are supposed to mean something but symbols of inaction.

China is, moreover, too powerful and the Sino-Russian relation too close that the US could afford not to struggle to restore and expand its alliance system to the fullest, an inclination that meets the personal foreign policy preferences of Joe Biden after former President Trump did arguably more harm to the US alliance and partner system than any President before as Kurt Campell & Rush Shoshi argue in [Foreign Affairs]. See also [The Japan Times]

Important for the new foreign policy approach of the Biden administration will be the rediscovery of the normative dimension of the national interest and the enhancement of soft power. James Traub refers in this regard in the [New York Times] to the “Cold War Liberals” of the 1950s and 60s, stressing the need to align domestic and foreign affairs under the sign of democratic liberal renewal. The central claim here is that democracies can maintain a foreign policy that is consistent with their values and generally deliver better on domestic and international needs than autocracies can do. This is resounding President Biden’s pledge to make the US “the leading force for good in the world” and “not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.” Concerning the enhancement of American soft power, a piece in the [National Interest] recommends the rediscovery of cultural diplomacy and academic exchange as a central area of soft power expansion.

Finally, the US might have to seek joining the CPTPP to prevent the China dominated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to become the dominant trade organization in Asia. [The Business Insider].

Regarding the prospects and focal points of an American Asia strategy with immediate impact on China the situation seems rather predictable. The fact that the region is rather friendly to a gradual rise of US influence at current might also be seen as reflecting both the velocity of Chinese rise and the degree of decline of American prowess to incontestably act as a regional hegemon. While the Biden administration has rather been well received by the US’ Asian allies and partners, it will have to strike a careful balance between reliability and presence on the one side and an avoidance of any impression of moral paternalism on the other. Not only has the Washington insurrection of Trump supporters damaged the credibility of US leadership with regard of democratic values, the US’ weight in the region has changed with the Chinese rise as well. This notwithstanding, the US will also have to painstakingly to avoid the perception of transience of the American foothold in the region not to speak of any half-heartedness or lack of determination concerning its commitment to the region. Altogether that means more than one target conflict and require a high-level strategy and related diplomatic effort on behalf of the Biden administration.

The most comprehensive published outline of a possible China policy for the Biden administration to date has been published recently in [POLITICO]. The author who remains anonymous is referred to as “a former senior government official with deep expertise and experience dealing with China” who seeks to emulate – as so many others – George Kennan’s post-WW II “Long Telegram” that was laying out the basis for the next several decades of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union.

According the author X it is due to the scale, speed and impact of China’s rise and its radically different worldview from that of the United States, that “China’s rise now profoundly impacts every major U.S. national interest” in form a defining “structural challenge” and at the same time a “serious challenge to the whole of the democratic world”. This challenge is, however, perceived as much embodied by the leadership of President Xi. While all five post-Mao leaders prior to Xi were able to work with the US, Xi is said to depart from traditional Chinese foreign policy by seeking to remake the international order “in China’s own image”.

According to the author, Xi’s leadership and his vast ambitions as well as “his endless demands for absolute loyalty” prompting elite circles in the communist party to “fear for their own lives and the future livelihoods of their families”, have significantly divided the party. Consequently, so X, an American China strategy should focus on these internal fault lines within the Chinese leadership in attempt to isolate President Xi and enable a leadership with a more traditional foreign policy approach.

To counter the particular threat of the Xi system, the author recommends a consequently developed grand strategy that comprises the rebuilding of all relevant underpinnings of US power, the communication of realistic and enforced red lines, the identification of areas of cooperation and competition, the conduct of a “full-fledged, global ideological battle” and a consequent coalition policy regarding allies and partners. As consequence, author X hopes the CCP could “see a clearer route to success by staying within the existing US-led liberal international order than by building a rival order” and should understand that is “in the party’s best interests, if it wishes to remain in power at home, not to attempt to expand China’s borders or export its political model beyond China’s shores”.

At least in parts, this policy outline is based on assumptions that might be doubted. First of all, it is questionable in how far President Xi is actually representing a purely accidental leadership figure whose replacement will lead to a substantial change of the particular regime whose emergence he has initiated. Irrespective of the always inevitable internal rifts and factions of any autocratic regime, the fact that China is a de facto one-party system with a highly doctrinal cadre is rather reason to believe in continuity than change if the leader is replaced. This counts even more in times in which structural forces are increasingly in place, in the US as much as in China.

Moreover, China has dared and gained too much already in its global expansion drive to confine itself and to refrain from seeking regional dominance and even global leadership if it is not forced so by external factors. 

While it is hardly imaginable that the present Chinese trajectory will substantially change without external disruption it also seems not entirely compelling to historically assume that China never tried to gain regional dominance under other leaders or that this would be alien to the Chinese form of leadership. The US Indochina engagement in concert with allies and partners like Thailand and the Philippines, the anti-Chinese stance in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam and the Vietnamese resolve in protecting its borders prevented that in the decades following WW II as much as the emerging Russian-Sino enmity and the fact that China was for a long time an intrinsically poor country in a world dominated first by the Cold War and then by American uni-polarity.

Today, China is economically and technologically rising, Russia and China are more aligned than ever, and the assumption that China has no allies but a few as author X indicates seems to overlook the influence China wields in a growing number of African, Latin-American, Middle Eastern, and European states.

Likewise, the assumption that the Chinese people may “over the longer term …. well come to question and challenge the party’s century-long proposition that China’s ancient civilization is forever destined to an authoritarian future” could be too simplifying. The Chinese social contract is based on performance and, resulting, economic well-being, not the pursuit of liberty. That might change but the same can be said about a vaguely possible departure of single Western democracies from liberalism. 

Lastly, a Chinese development to national greatness measured in terms of Chinese global leadership is a foundational national narrative with great traction not only for President Xi but also for a great number of people in China and the CCP. Given all this, to target the inner fault lines of the CCP might rather not so easily provide the single silver bullet author X is envisioning.

However, the POLITICO article is significant for the consequent request for a well-coordinated full-spectrum China policy in American policy circles that reflects the deep structural antagonism between the two countries while not neglecting the need for cooperation in particular areas.       

2 February 2021

Laos: Chinese company to push soil on farmland from high-speed rail construction

(nd) China Railway Engineering Group (CREG) pushed soil from a railway construction site onto farm plots, gardens, and irrigation systems in northwestern Laos leaving the plots damaged. CREG is building a high-speed rail line to connect China with Laos and other countries in the region as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The famers filed a complaint with the company and requested compensation. The construction began in December 2016 and has affected over a thousand households, with 133 billion kip (U.S. $14 million) in compensation already paid out. The amounts were called inadequate and below market value by landowners.

While the Lao government views the construction of multiple hydropower dams as a way to boost the country’s economy, the projects are controversial due to their environmental impact, the compensation-lacking displacement of villagers, and questionable financial and power-demand arrangements. [Radio Free Asia]


2 February 2021

Pakistan: Government plans to set up Special Economic Zone in Gilgit-Baltistan

(lm) The government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan plans to establish a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the Pakistan-administered region of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), the minister for Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan said on January 27. [South Asia Monitor]

Last November, the prime minister’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its ally Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan (MWM) had emerged as the largest political alliance in the provincial assembly elections, despite failing to achieve a clear majority [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Khan said that the newly formed government would work on a priority basis to grant ‘provisional provincial status’ to the region [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].

To date, Islamabad has fallen short of declaring the strategic region as its fifth province, ostensibly to protect its claim on the entirety of Kashmir in the event of a resolution of the Kashmir dispute with India. As a consequence, the region has been caught in constitutional limbo and denied representation in Pakistan’s national legislature [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1]. According to observers, there is a good case to believe that elevating the status of GB has been encouraged by neighboring China, at least in part. The region is already home to the Moqpondass, a region selected for one of the proposed nine priority SEZs under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). [Eurasia Review]

In this context, the GB government’s public works department was instructed earlier this month to prepare a “project concept clearance proposal” for a new border road connecting China and Pakistan under CPEC. Currently, the two neighboring countries are connected only by the Karakoram Highway, completed in 1978, via a single crossing in the Khunjerab Pass. Importantly, beyond enhancing transport capacity, the proposed route would also enable great Pakistan military mobility by opening a new supply line from China to Pakistani forces deployed along the Line of Control (LOC), which slices the disputed Indian and Pakistani governed parts of Kashmir into two. [Profit by Pakistan Today] [South China Morning Post]


2 February 2021

China: Hong Kong needs rule of patriots, Xi says

(dql) During a virtual meeting with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Chinese President Xi Jinping made clear that the city must be ruled by “patriots”, calling it a “fundamental principle that concerns national sovereignty, security… and the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” and the “only way of maintaining Beijing’s sovereignty over the region and safeguarding its constitutional order.” [Hong Kong Free Press]

Xi’s remarks come weeks after more than 50 democracy advocates and opposition politician were arrested and amid growing pressure from Hong Kong authorities on civil servants and public officers to swear allegiance to the government. [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2] [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]

Meanwhile, Beijing is reportedly expanding its liaison office in Hong Kong by 100 cadres tasked with tightening supervision and policy implementation in the city. [Reuters]

2 February 2021

China: Former bank chairman executed for massive bribery 

(dql) Lai Xiaomin, former chairman of China Huarong Asset Management Co., one of the country’s largest state-owned bad-debt management companies public, was executed following his conviction on in one of China’s highest-profile corruption cases. In January Lai was found guilty of bribery amounting to 278 million USD between 2008 and 2018. [France 24] [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]

In another corruption case, Wang Yong, a former leader of Hainan, was arrested on suspicion of taking bribes. The southern province Hainan has recently been designated by the government to become China’s biggest zero-tariff zone by 2025. The booming property market provided plenty of opportunities for corruption. Nearly 18 senior officials in Hainan have been snared since 2019, according to official reports. [South China Morning Post] [Yahoo News]

2 February 2021

China: Human rights lawyers group kicks off campaign on public sharing of Covid-19 experience

(dql) A group of Chinese human rights lawyers launched a campaign on the internet to mark the first anniversary of the death of Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who first warned of the appearance of the coronavirus but was pressured into silence by Chinese authorities. Li later did on 6 February 2020 from Covid-19. In an open letter the group called on individuals and groups to speak out about their experiences over the past year, asking them to tell the truth the way Li Wenliang did. [Asia News]

A WeChat post, meanwhile, interprets the Covid-19 lockdown in Hebei from the perspective of Chinese cultural psychology in which the author argues that Hebei, as its surrounds Beijing, has been put in a “state of war”, with the hardships, endured by the population, perceived by the people in power as a “total, selfless sacrifice” for the capital under a system which seeks “absolute security,” and demands “absolute loyalty.” [China Digital Times]

2 February 2021

China: Crackdown on “self-media” announced

(dql) China’s Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) – the country’s internet watchdog – announced a campaign to control the distribution of information across all internet platforms to end “disruption to the order of internet broadcasts”, targeting in particular “self-media”, social media accounts run by independent citizen journalists and content producers. 

Analysts view this move as targeting political content coming after authorities arrested and sentenced citizen journalists for reporting on lockdown conditions in Wuhan last year. [South China Morning Post]

The announcement comes also shortly the CAC’s revision of rules on managing public internet accounts, specifying the type of banned actions to cover “fabricating information, inciting extreme emotions, plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing and artificially inflating the number of clicks.” The new rules will enter into force in February. [Yahoo News]

2 February 2021

China: Prominent former human rights activist missing, Tibetan culture advocate released from prison

(dql) Veteran human rights activist Guo Feixiong has gone missing after he was barred from leaving China at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport to reunite with his wife who is ill with cancer in the United States. He was reportedly detained at the airport over accusations of endangering national security

Guo raised to prominence Guo as defender of government critics and had been imprisoned for more than 10 years under China’s state security laws. [The Independent] [Yahoo News]

In a separate development, Tibetan culture activist Tashi Wanchuk was released after five years in prison for “inciting separatism”. In 2016, Wangchuk was detained following his appearance in a New York Times (NYT) video in which he criticized the Chinese government for eroding Tibetan culture and language. [Hong Kong Free Press]

26 January 2021

Myanmar: Villagers agree to relocation from Chinese run copper mine

(lf) Villagers who live close to a copper mine jointly run by a Chinese company (China Wanbao Engineering Company) and the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Company (MEHC), have agreed to relocate. This ends a violent dispute between the villagers on one side and the MEHC/ China Wanbao Engineering Company and the police on the other that started in 2012 after villagers complained about not receiving adequate compensation for their land. In the same year, during a peaceful protest 70 monks and 10 civilians were harmed through the use of highly toxic white phosphorus by security forces, followed by the killing of a female protestor who was shot in 2014 by police forces. The villagers have agreed to relocate after an agreement was found with the Chinese company. [Irrawaddy]

26 January 2021

Philippines, China to sign infrastructure contracts

(nd) During a visit of Foreign Minister Wang Yi, China and the Philippines have signed contracts for the construction of a bridge link to Davao City in Mindanao and a cargo railway in Luzon. It represents a contribution to president Rodrigo Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure initiative, which was launched in 2017 and plans to spend 8 to 9 trillion pesos (roughly US$160 billion to US$180 billion).

The railway project with estimated costs of US$940 million will the highest-funded G-to-G cooperation project between China and the Philippines, and will through ports, railways, and airports connect the Subic-Clark corridor with New Clark city in the long run. The bridge will provide a transportation link between Metro Davao and Samal Island, with estimated costs of US$400 million. Additionally, the government plans to build four energy facilities, ten water resource projects and irrigation systems to raise agricultural output; and five flood control facilities. [Asia Times]

26 January 2021

Myanmar, China to deepen cooperation

(nd) During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Myanmar, the countries agreed on a major transportation project and a five-year trade and economic pact, including 8 bilateral deals. Most importantly, a feasibility study for the second half of a rail line from East to West, connecting Myanmar’s border with China to its Bay of Bengal coast, forms part of it. The line is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and shall provide an access to the Indian Ocean in bypassing the Malacca Strait. The first half of the project included a deep-water port on the coast and parallel running oil and gas pipelines, which drew a lot of criticism by residents.

The construction work was slowed down by Burmese fears of spiraling into a “debt trap” and dependency on China amid the high volume of BRI projects. According to analysts, the recent success to push the projects signals significant growth of Chinese influence on Myanmar. Also, the signing of a 5-year plan at the beginning of National League for Democracy’s (NLD) second term shows Myanmar’s dependency on China, as well as Chinese strategic ambition in Myanmar. The years of little competition for Southeast Asia might be over with the new administration of President-elect Joe Biden. Wang’s latest visit was therefore seen as a move to get ahead of Biden in the region. Wang is also visiting Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines and donating Covid-19 vaccinations. [Voice of America]

26 January 2021

India, China hold 16-hour long inconclusive talks to resolve border dispute

(lm) A 16-hour marathon meeting between India and China to resolve the ongoing border dispute and thinning of forces along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh ended on January 25. The eighth and last round of the talks had taken place on November 6 during which both sides broadly discussed creating no-patrol zones, pulling back tanks and artillery, and using drones to verify the withdrawal [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. [The Hindu] [Hindustan Times] [The Straits Times]

Notwithstanding periodic hopes for a resolution, however, several rounds of diplomatic and military talks have so far made little headway in deflating tensions over the disputed border. But what is more, frontline deployments of both sides remain unchanged, with more than 100,000 soldiers of both armies facing winter conditions [see latest AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2].

Recognizing that Beijing has an immense military advantage, observers suggest that India is stalling for time, privily accepting that a diplomatic solution is unlikely. With both armies locked into the prospect of a long watch in the high mountains [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1], the Indian Army’s performance and its sustenance through this winter may be the critical factor for New Delhi’s plans to deal with the Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh.

26 January 2021

Cross-Strait relations: Record numbers of Chinese military aircraft enter Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone

(nm) China sent a record number of warplanes into the Taiwan Strait over the weekend, with a total of 13 warplanes entering Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Saturday, followed by 15 military planes on Sunday, making it the 20th day in January that China’s military has sent aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), the planes involved in Saturday’s maneuver were one anti-submarine aircraft, eight bombers, and four Chinese fighter jets, while 12 fighters, two anti-submarine aircraft, and a reconnaissance plane entered the ADIZ on Sunday.

Although such drills have been common in recent years, China has lately stepped up its military maneuvers, in a show of force to the incoming US Biden administration, signalling Beijing’s plans to maintain pressure on Taiwan.

Echoing this, Wang Yang, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top leadership body, demanded in his speech before officials of the Taiwan Affairs Office that China must “use the increasing strengths and significant advantages in our system effectively when handling Taiwan affairs,” and “resolutely curb” any forces calling for Taiwan’s independence. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Focus Taiwan 2] [South China Morning Post]

Sunday’s intrusion came after the Theodore Roosevelt, a US aircraft carrier, entered the South China Sea on Saturday, an undertaking described by the US Navy as “routine operations” to “ensure freedom of the seas.” Also on Saturday, the US Department of State issued a statement calling on China to “cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives,” adding “We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Indo-Pacific region – and that includes deepening our ties with democratic Taiwan.”

In response to the intrusion, Taiwan’s military tasked airborne alert sorties, issued radio warnings and deployed air defence missiles to monitor the activity, according to the MND. [The New York Times, $] [DW]

26 January 2021

China-Australia relations: Canberra’s fierce stance 

(dql) Amid heightened diplomatic tensions between China and Australia over disputes on various fronts – including trade, human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and the coronavirus origin – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeated his robust stance on relationship-saving discussions with China, saying that while Australia “will remain absolutely open and available to meet, to discuss, any of the issues that have been identified,” those discussions “won’t take place on the base of any sort of pre-emptive concessions on Australia’s part on those matters.” [Yahoo News]

Furthermore, within the Morrison government a split has emerged with members of the National Party, the junior coalition partner demanding protectionist policies in the trade war with China, including imposing tariffs and expanding subsidies to protect domestic manufacturers. The Liberal Party, however, warned that such policies would “be against the national interest to abandon free and open trade.” [The Guardian]

Australia’s Defense Ministry, meanwhile, announced that it will invest 770 million USD in naval capabilities to boost its maritime security involving the development of advanced guided weapons to equip the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) with long-range anti-ship missiles, extended range surface-to-air missiles, advanced lightweight torpedoes, and maritime land strike capabilities. [Sydney Morning Herald]

26 January 2021

China to tighten strategic control over rare-earths

(dql) China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced that China will amend its current laws on rare-earth metals and expand regulations, which thus far focus on the production stage, to the entire industry chain, covering refining, product transport and export.

As the new rules provides Beijing with more control over the supply of rare earths as strategic resources observers view the legislative move as China’s latest response to Sino-US tensions. Crucial for high-tech manufacturing, including electronics and defense equipment, China accounts for 60% of worldwide rare-earth production. while the US imports 80% of rare earths from China. [Nikkei Asian Review]

26 January 2021

China-Japan relations: Tensions rise amid Chinese activities in disputed waters

(dql) Japan has submitted a note verbale to the United Nations to express its rejection of China’s baseline claims in the South China Sea and to denounce Beijing’s efforts to limit the freedom of navigation and overflight in this strategically important waterway.

With its recent note, Japan joins a group of countries which have recently taken such a move including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. [United Nations] [Yahoo News] [Radio Free Asia]

The note on the South China Sea was followed by a Japanese protest against China over the latter’s actions in waters surrounding disputed islets in the East China Sea, demanding China to stop intruding into Japanese waters and harassing Japanese fishing boats in the area. [Stars and Stripes]

26 January 2021

China: Chinese coast guard effectively transforms into a full-blown military unit

(dql) China passed a law last Friday that allows the country’s heavily equipped coast guard to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”

Effectively transforming the coast guard into a military unit with an implied mission to dominate disputed waters such as the South China Sea, the law identifies the scenarios under which different kind of weapons – handheld, shipborne or airborne – can be used: The coast guard is allowed to demolish other countries’ structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs and to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China, while it is also permitted to create temporary exclusion zones “as needed” to stop other vessels and personnel from entering. [Aljazeera]

The law comes with US President Joe Biden being only two days in office, setting the tone with regard of the South China Sea dispute, signaling China`s determination to achieve effective control of waters it counts as its strategic front yard in the post-Trump era.

26 January 2021

It’s structural, stupid – Sino-US tensions to remain definitional under Biden

(dql) In a tit-for-tat response to recent US sanctions on Chinese officials and entities over Chinese policies and actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, China announced similar sanctions against 28 high-ranking US officials of the Trump administration, described by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as “anti-China politicians,” who have “designed, pushed forward, and carried out a set of insane actions, which have severely interfered in China’s domestic affairs, harmed China’s interest, hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and severely harmed Chinese-US relations.” Among those sanctioned are outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former White House advisor Peter Navarro, former national security advisors John Bolton and Robert O’Brien, China strategist Matthew Pottinger, and former White House advisor Steve Bannon. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China 1, in Chinese] [CNN]

The announcement was made only a few minutes after Joe Biden was sworn in as US President and shortly after Pompeo officially declared China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang as “genocide,” and a “systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state” on his last full day in office. [U.S. News]

At the same time, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed its hope that the new Biden administration would “view China and China-U.S. relations in an objective and rational manner,” and “bring back China-U.S. relations back onto the track of sound and stable development.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China 2] The remarks echo Beijing’s efforts to find common ground with Washington in the areas of climate change and the anti-pandemic fight as starting points of a reset of bi-lateral relations. [Aljazeera] [Wall Street Journal]

In one of his first moves as President, Biden signed executive orders to return to the Paris climate agreement and to hold the US exit from the World Health Organization. [The Guardian] [Deutsche Welle]

Meanwhile, Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken notably said that – while he did not agree with all of Trump’s methods –, he still believed that the former President was right in taking a tougher approach to China. He also confirmed Pompeo’s assessment of the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide in Xinjiang, indicating a thorny path towards Beijing’s hope for a return to “sound and stable” relations between the two countries. [Reuters]

Furthermore, the US Department of State issued a statement on Saturday expressing concern over China’s ongoing attempts to intimidate Taiwan and urging China to “engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives.” It reassured “rock-solid” commitment to Taiwan, which “contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.” [Focus Taiwan]

The statement was made on the same day a US aircraft carrier group entered the South China Sea while an incursion of People’s Liberation Army bombers and fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone was reported by the Taiwanese government. [Reuters]

The take-away is: While foreign policy Trumpism is over with a last jab from Beijing, US-China tensions are thus revealed once more to be inherently structural, this time by the just inaugurated Biden administration.

In a latest development, Chinese President Xi Jinping – speaking at the virtually held World Economic Forum in Davos – warned global leaders against starting a “new Cold War” and called for unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. [Aljazeera] More analysis on the World Economic Forum in the next AiR issue.

26 January 2021

China’s economic performance 2020 and outlook for 2021 

(dql) According to data released by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Chinese economy was the only major economy to achieve growth in a pandemic-ridden 2020 with an overall growth of 2.3% after a decisive Covid-19 clampdown. Meanwhile, the Eurozone stood at an average of negative 7.3% with Germany’s economy, Europe’s by far strongest, having shrunk 5%. Echoing these numbers, UN figures confirm China as largest recipient of new foreign direct investment in the past year. With 163 billion USD in investment, it surpassed for the first time the US, which attracted 134 billion USD.  

For China, however, the 2020 results still meant the country’s slowest economic expansion in over four decades since the world’s second largest economy embarked on major economic reforms in the late 1970s. [Deutsche Welle] [UNCTAD]

According to the World Bank, relative success seams to stay in 2021 with estimated 7.9 % Chinese growth against an expected global expansion of 4%.   [Business Insider] [World Bank]

The rather positive outlook for China in relation to other major economies might, however, need some correction if the recent Covid-19 outbreaks, along with an aggressive set of countermeasures – including home quarantines, travel curbs and mass testing this month – would signal a resurge in domestic infections again. January saw the worst Covid-19 wave in the country since March 2020, with new virus clusters located in the North and the South respectively. The fact that Chinese authorities are discouraging travel during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday highlights how serious the threat is. [Reuters] [ABC News] [AP] [China Digital Times 1]

Last but not least, expanding lockdown policies in China were already reflected by global oil market corrections fueling fears that global oil demand could be weaker this quarter than anticipated just a week ago. [OilPrice]

Moreover, the relative economic expansion might also be dependent on differences in the Covid-19 vaccine rollout where Chinese vaccination stays behind competing products in terms of effectiveness so far. See for instance [China Digital Times 2]. 

26 January 2021

China: Beijing set to turn into high-tech hub

(dql) To elevate China’s strength in science and technology and to signal the country’s ambition to be a global leader in these areas, the city of Beijing has announced plans to develop new trillion-yuan hi-tech manufacturing clusters to strengthen capabilities in areas such as artificial intelligence and quantum communication. The plans also include offering better work conditions as well as opening up research facilities to international scientists to attract global talent. [China Economic Net] [South China Morning Post]

26 January 2021

China: Hong Kong district councilors to be required to take allegiance oath 

(dql) Hong Kong’s government revealed that it will soon table in the Legislative Council, the city’s parliament, an amendment bill in February after Lunar New Year that would categorize district councillors as public officers requiring them to take an oath to swear allegiance to the city under the Hong Kong National Security Law. The new law would also stipulate that expressing opinions contrary to the government’s stance in the capacity of a district councillor would constitute a breach of the oath.

The announcement has sparked concerns that Beijing is trying to further suppress the opposition in the city by stamping out the influence of district councilors, as currently the 479 District Council seats are predominantly occupied by the pro-democracy camp, as a result of its landslide victory in the 2019 District Council Election. [The Standard] [Hong Kong Press 1]

In a related development, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong Hong (DAB), Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing party, demanded that the government set up monitoring committees to ensure district councillors abide by their allegiance oaths. [Hong Kong Press 2]

26 January 2021

China/Hong Kong: Pro-government lawmakers suggest installation of cameras in classrooms

(dql) To further tighten control over education, pro-establishment lawmakers in Hong Kong have proposed to install surveillance cameras in classrooms to improve monitoring teachers’ behavior, specifying that only the teachers, not the students would be recorded. [Hong Kong Free Press 2

The legislative move comes against the background of the lifelong disqualification of a teacher in October last year after he handed out worksheets asking students to discuss independence and freedom of speech. Another case is pending in which a teacher is accused of “using inappropriate and biased teaching materials”. [AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2] [Hong Kong Free Press 2]

For insights in current classroom atmosphere in Hong Kong – the former British colony hosts over 1.000 primary and secondary schools and some of Asia’s best universities where freedom of speech has been observed so far –, see Shirley Lau in the [Equal Times] citing a teacher saying: “In the past, everyone could speak freely. Now there is this invisible red line. I would try to steer clear of certain things, and some of my students would tease me as a way to tell me to be careful. You never know when some pro-Beijing student or their parents will report you.”

26 January 2021

China: Top anti-corruption agency’s annual meeting

(dql) China’s top anti-corruption agency – the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection –  held its annual meeting last week, attended by President Xi Jinping, over 130 members of the Commission and their provincial counterparts. 

After recent high-profile corruption trials with harsh verdicts in the immediate run up to the meeting – including a life and a death sentence –, the Commission reaffirmed in its final communique its resolve to further increase its determination by issuing new regulations that aim at strengthening Beijing’s anti-corruption regime. This includes entrenching the reform of the discipline inspection and supervision systems and strengthening internal monitoring and discipline. [South China Morning Post] [The Herald] [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2

Speaking on the occasion, President Xi named corruption “the biggest risk to the Party’s governance,” and added that while the party has made “historic achievements” in combatting corruption, it “still exists,” warning that “old and new types of corruption have become intertwined and corruption is increasingly covert and complex.” Notably, President Xi highlighted the importance of “leveraging the guiding and safeguarding roles of strict Party governance in every respect.” [Xinhua, in Chinese]

26 January 2021

China: Charges against prominent dissidents elevated

(dql) Chinese human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi and Xi Jinping-critic Xu Zhiyong are soon to be tried over charges that have been elevated from “inciting subversion” to “subversion of state power” which can be punished with sentences from 3 to 11 years in prison.

Currently in detention, both were instrumental in forming the New Citizens movement in 2012, a civil society group which seeks to expose corruption in society and promote political reforms. They were arrested about a year ago after taking part in a meeting with civil rights lawyers and activists in late 2019 at which they are reported to have discussed the “democratic transition of China”.

Prior to his arrest, Xu openly accused the Chinese Communist Party of being responsible for the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan by suppressing the freedom of speech. [South China Morning Post] [Asia News] [AiR No. 1, January/2020, 1]

Meanwhile, prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng China has been shortlisted for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, named after the former Secretary-General of Amnesty International. Yu was detained in early 2018 after calling for political reform and Xi Jinping’s resignation. [China Digital Times]

19 January 2021

Indonesia: Chinese survey ship driven off Natuna Islands

(nd) The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) intercepted a Chinese survey ship sailing near its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Natuna Islands with a switched off automatic identification system (AIS). The United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) entail provisions that require all ships transiting archipelagic states to have functioning AIS.

The incident comes shortly after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Jakarta and amid already heightened concerns over China’s increased militarization of the contested South China Sea.

Earlier this month, the Bakamla was armed by the Indonesian coast guard with 20 submachine guns for 10 of its patrol boats and also permitted to acquire military-grade weapons themselves, with the rationale that they are still heavily underequipped in comparison to the Chinese coast guard. In November, the announcement to move the headquarters from Jakarta to the Natuna Islands in light of Chinese and Vietnamese fishing boats encroaching in their EEZ, signals the need to respond faster and more determined in order to protect maritime sovereignty. [Radio Free Asia] [Asia Times]

19 January 2021

Myanmar, China to further push for implementation of BRI projects

(nd) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his visit to Myanmar, brought donations of COVID-19 medical supplies, voiced support for the government’s peace talks with ethnic armed groups and urged a quicker project progress of Chinese-led infrastructure projects, which form a part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Special reference was made to the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) as the flagship project under the BRI, including a railway and gas and oil pipelines. China has a vital strategic interest in  stable access to the Indian Ocean from its southwestern provinces, which is why it is also getting involved in furthering peace talks. In Rakhine state, Myanmar’s military and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) have been fighting for two years, which resulted in the killing of about 300 civilians, and displacing of about 230,000 people. The temporary ceasefire has been in place since November 8.

While the economic benefits of the infrastructure projects for Myanmar have been doubted by observers, rights groups urge the government to be more transparent to the public and listen to the locals with respect to existing land issues. [Radio Free Asia]

19 January 2021

China’s vaccine diplomacy in Southeast Asia 

(nd) After Chinese company Sinovac announced a 78% efficacy rate during its trials of CoronaVac, Brazilian scientists reported a significantly lower rate of 50,4 %, casting doubt on China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy” in Southeast Asia. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) threshold for advised use is 50%. Indonesia’s own trials found an efficacy of 63,3%, with Indonesia’s food and drug agency to be the first in the world to approve use of the Sinovac vaccinations. Despite the high numbers and the prominent vaccination of President Joko Widodo, the Indonesian population is rather reluctant to receive a shot due to concerns over safety and efficacy. [Asia Times]

Thailand and the Philippines have also already purchased doses of CoronaVac, with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte criticizing Western vaccination makers for their unscrupulous prices. Vaccinations produced by Moderna and Pfizer-Biontech have shown efficacy rates of about 95%, but are more expensive and have to be transported and stored in costly freezers. Besides the price and its availability, buying Chinese vaccinations will potentially bring more general benefits, with China having already announced it will look kindly on purchasers of its products. [Asia Times]

Despite China being the country’s closest ally and economic patron, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced last year to only purchase WHO-approved vaccines, which to date doesn’t include any of the at least four vaccinations produced by China, which prompted observers to state that it will take the country until at least mid-2022 to be able to vaccinate more than 60% of its population. The Chinese government and state media downplayed the efficacy results, but they still raised already existing public doubt over the reliability of Chinese vaccinations, and the more general notion of unsafe and hasty production of vaccinations against Covid-19 generally. Yet, early this week Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen accepted a donation of one million Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, contradicting previous pledges. Hun Sen argued amid a Thai Covid-19 case surge, he cannot afford to wait, and referred to the rollout of the vaccine in China, Indonesia, Egypt and Brazil. [Nikkei Asia]

During his visit to the Philippines, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi promised half a million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, US$1.34 billion in loan pledges for infrastructure projects and US$77 million (500 million yuan) in grants. Philippine Foreign Minister Locsin, however, also made reference to the South China Sea dispute. According to observers, in light of the incoming Biden administration, the donation and investment in infrastructure was an effort to present itself as a partner to revive heavy-hit economies in the regions. [South China Morning Post]

19 January 2021

Chinese envoy meets Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Sahid

China’s ambassador to the Maldives has met with Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdullah Sahid to discuss ways for enhanced and closer corporation between two countries in 2021. [South Asia Monitor]

As the country has so far been unable to offset the impact of the drastic reduction in tourism activity caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Malé is currently seeking a loan restructuring from Beijing. Beijing has already reduced last 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]. Earlier last month, China then agreed to defer repayment for loans which were secured via state-owned companies [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].

19 January 2021

Nepal to establish Economic Zones along borders with India, China

(lm) Nepal is planning to establish four cross-border economic zones, two each along the borders with India and China – as part of efforts by Kathmandu to boost trade and investment with its two neighboring countries. [The Kathmandu Post]

Among the country’s trade partners, India accounts for the largest share of exports and imports. In the last fiscal year, more than 60 percent of Nepal’s total foreign trade was done with India. China, in turn, is Kathmandu’s second largest trading partner, accounting for little more than 15 percent of Nepal’s imports but only a small portion of its export trade.

Kathmandu last year started construction on a dry port in its far western province of Dodhara-Chandani, which provides the shortest route to the sea. The first business gateway to India from Nepal’s Far-Western Development Region, the inland terminal will provide access to India’s largest seaport, Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai, and facilitate Nepal’s foreign trade and lower costs.

19 January 2021

Bangladesh, China, Myanmar to hold tripartite meeting on Rohingya repatriation on January 19

(lm) A secretary-level meeting between Bangladesh and Myanmar will be held on January 19 in Dhaka to discuss the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. China will join the meeting as mediator. The last tripartite meeting on Rohingya repatriation was held in January last year. While Myanmar has shown little cooperation since then, Bangladesh is hopeful some headway will made at the upcoming meeting, according to Bangladesh’s foreign minister. [South Asia Monitor] [Radio Free Asia]

Bangladesh and Myanmar first signed a repatriation deal in November 2017, followed by a physical agreement in January 2018, to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to Rakhine State in Myanmar. The countries had set two dates to begin the repatriation – November 2018 and August 2019 – but refugees were reluctant to return to what they said was a hostile environment in Rakhine. Authorities in Bangladesh more recently then started relocating Rohingya refugees from crammed camps near the Myanmar border to a settlement on what the UN and rights groups worry is a dangerous low-lying island prone to cyclones and floods [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].

The upcoming meeting assumes added significance, because recent developments may spur China to pressure Myanmar on the issue: In a 134-9 vote with 28 abstentions the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on December 31 approved a resolution strongly condemning rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minority groups in Myanmar, including arbitrary arrests, torture, rape, and deaths in detention [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1].

19 January 2021

China, Pakistan pose potential threat, says Indian Army Chief Naravane

(lm) Indian Army Chief General Naravane said on January 12 that Pakistan and China continue to pose threats to the northern and eastern borders of India, adding that India was facing the possibility of a two-front conflict due to increased cooperation between the two countries. While addressing the media on the eve of India’s Army Day, Naravane also commented on the ongoing border stand-off with China in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, saying that Indian troops deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) were prepared to “hold our ground as long as it takes”. [The New Indian Express]

While initially confirming the recent re-deployment of some 10,000 Chinese soldiers from some training areas on the adjacent Tibetan plateau [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2], the army chief also dampened expectations by adding that no change of posture had occurred on friction points along the LAC, where both sides had entered a winter deployment situation. [Anadolu Agency]

Talks between the two countries have all but been deadlocked since military officials last met in December – after more than 40 days without any dialogue – with both sides reinforcing their positions and digging their heels in, since then. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. Observers of the months-long stand-off suggest the current pause in talks might be a strategic maneuver by Beijing as it casts an eye on Washington to get a better sense of what US President-elect Joe Biden’s policy toward China will entail. [South China Morning Post]

In this context, two recent events assume added significance, as they may be shaping Beijing’s considerations of US policy. To begin with, the outgoing US ambassador to India confirmed earlier this month that Washington and New Delhi had been working in “close coordination”, to help India counter what he referred to as “sustained […] aggressive Chinese activity on its border”. While the ambassador declined to provide further details, there is a good case to believe that New Delhi is relying on Washington for sharing geospatial data from airborne and satellite sensor [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1], as well as emergency purchases of cold-weather equipment for its personnel in the Himalayas [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3].

A case in point, photographs recently published by a US-based imaging company suggest that China continues construction work along the borer areas with India. [The Times of India]

What is more, a 2018 US document on its Indo-Pacific strategy was declassified on January 11, laying bare Washington’s view that India was “pre-eminent in South Asia” and that a “strong India” would “act as counterbalance to China”. [The Wire] [U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific]

19 January 2021

Taiwan-US relations: Declassified strategy document shows support for Taiwan

(nm) The recently declassified and published “US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” – a 10-page report approved for implementation by President Trump in 2018, that had been stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043 – contains US affirmations towards Taiwan. 

Under the assumption that “China will take increasingly assertive steps to compel unification with Taiwan,” the framework stipulates “defending the first-island-chain nations, including Taiwan,” as part of a defense strategy against China, while seeking to “[e]nable Taiwan to develop an effective asymmetric defense strategy and capabilities that will help ensure its security, freedom from coercion, resilience, and ability to engage China on its own terms.” [White House, USA]

In response, China’s Foreign Ministry s urged the US “to turn away from an erroneous and dangerous path that could jeopardize peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and harm China-US relations.” 

The Taiwanese government, meanwhile, confirmed that the reference to asymmetrical warfare in the framework is in line with Taiwanese military’s focus in crafting an innovative and asymmetric fighting force in the next few years. [Bloomberg] [Taipei Times 1] [Taipei Times 2][]

Meanwhile, the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US think tank, has recently released its Preventive Priorities Survey in which it has listed a possible conflict between the US and China over Taiwan as a tier-1 concern, which might lead “to a severe crisis with the United States.”. An armed confrontation in the South China Sea involving US and Chinese forces – in 2020 a top-tier concern – is judged as tier-2 concern for this year. 

The annual report identifies potential violent overseas conflicts where US troops might be deployed in the year ahead, and ranks them in a three-tiered system according to their possibility. [CFR][Focus Taiwan 1

The release also comes after a week of dynamic US-Taiwan relations. On Tuesday of last week, a highly anticipated visit to Taiwan by US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft was cancelled as the US State Department had cancelled all visits ahead of the inauguration of incoming President Joe Biden in order to carry out transition duties. Instead of an in-person meeting, Craft and President Tsai Ing-wen held a video conference during which Craft affirmed the close relation between the US and Taiwan, stating the US “stands shoulder to shoulder with Taiwan as pillars of democracy.” They also discussed Taiwan’s international participation, bilateral cooperation, and shared democratic values. [Taiwan News] [Focus Taiwan 2]

Furthermore, US and Taiwan representatives to Switzerland and the Netherlands met after the US unilaterally ended its restrictions on official contacts between Taiwan and the US on January 9. [Focus Taiwan 3]

19 January 2021

China-US relations: Trump administration continues to crack on Chinese firms, bans cotton from all Xinjiang, and slaps sanctions linked to Hong Kong

(dql) The US Department of Defense last week added nine further Chinese firms to its blacklist of companies believed to be owned or controlled by the Chinese military including mobile phone maker Xiaomi and plane maker Comac. The latter is crucial to China’s efforts to produce narrow-body planes that can compete with Boeing and Airbus. The listed companies are subject to a new U.S. investment ban under which forces American investors are forced to divest their holdings of the sanctioned firms by Nov. 11, 2021. [Reuters 1]

In a separate move, the US Department of Commerce imposed sanctions on Chinese firms and military officials over Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, forbidding US citizens and entities to do business with them. Among them are state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), China’s third-largest national oil company, and Chinese aviation firm Skyrizon, which in 2017 attempted a takeover of Ukraine’s military aircraft engine maker Motor Sich in 2017, raising concerns that advanced aerospace technology would end up being used for military purposes. [South China Morning Post]

The US Customs and Border Protection, meanwhile, announced to block imports of cotton products and tomatoes originating from China’s Xinjiang region, citing “information that reasonably indicates the use of detainee or prison labor and situations of forced labor,” including debt bondage, restriction of movement, isolation, intimidation and threats, withholding of wages, as well as inhumane working and living conditions. 

The import blockage is the latest, yet most sweeping, in a series of moves of the Trump administration to pressure China over its treatment of the Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang where it accuses Beijing of systematic human rights violations against the ethnic group, especially of holding more than 1 million Uyghur in internment camps for political re-education. In November Washington blocked of goods from one Xinjiang-based company that controls about a third of cotton production in the region and about 6% of all cotton globally. In July the US imposed against Chinese officials held responsible for human rights violations against the Muslim minority in Xinjiang. [CNN] [Channel News Asia] [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]

Xinjiang produces 85% of China’s cotton, much of which is exported to other countries for processing. In 2020, the US imported cotton goods from China worth about 9 billion USD while 10 million USD in tomato products entered the US from China. According to estimates of human rights organizations one in five cotton garments around the globe contain cotton from Xinjiang. [Politico]

In a related development, the UK announced that it will introduce new rules for companies in a bid to prevent goods linked to forced labor in Xinjiang from entering the supply chain. The new rules will allow for a more robust guidance for due diligence on sourcing, a toughening of the Modern Slavery Act to ban from government the contracts of any companies that do not comply to procurement rules, and the launch of a Xinjiang-specific review of export controls. [VoA]

In a further move, US Secretary of State Pompeo announced sanctions against six Hong Kong or Chinese officials over their roles in implementing the Hong Kong national security law in the wake of the recent arrest of more than 50 pro-democracy activists under the legislation. [RT] [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]

In response, China Foreign Ministry announced that China will retaliate with sanctions on “U.S. officials, members of Congress, personnel at non-governmental organisations and their family members over their ‘nasty behaviour’ on the Hong Kong issue. [Reuters 2]


19 January 2021

China in the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” 

(dql) Shortly before Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President in this week, the Trump administration declassified and published the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”, approved by President Trump in 2018 and stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043. 

The 10-page national security strategy paper identifies maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy over the Indo-Pacific region,” and promoting “a liberal economic order, while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity” one of three national security challenges, along with North Korea’s threat to the US and its allies as well as the advancement of US global economic leadership. 

Furthermore, the document assumes that the “[s]trategic competition between the United States and China will persists,” with China “circumvent[ing] international norms and rules to gain advantage,” and seeking to “dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships,” in order to “exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.”

As an desired outcome with regards to China, the “United States and its partners on every continent” shall become “resistant to Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence.” [White House, USA]

For a concise assessment of what has been achieved under this strategic framework, see Grant Newsham in [Asia Times] who argues that “Trump and his staff are handing off to Joseph Biden an Indo-Pacific that is better off than it was in 2017. 

19 January 2021

China/Hong Kong: Civil service union disbanded amid new allegiance pledge requirement for civil servants 

(dql) Hong Kong’s Civil Service Bureau last week released a notice demanding that all civil servants sign a document to pledge to “uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, bear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, be dedicated to my duties and be responsible to the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.” An attachment to the declaration document describes behaviours considered a violation of the loyalty pledge, including “promoting or supporting Hong Kong independence, refusing to acknowledge China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, as well as seeking foreign powers to interfere with the city’s affairs,” as well as expressing in their official capacity in public a view different from the government.

The requirement applies to nearly 180,000 public servants in the city, who have been hired before July 1 last year, the day after the imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law. In an earlier move, government made it mandatory for more than 4.000 civil servants who joined from July 1 to sign the allegiance declaration, with those refusing to sign risking to lose their job.  [Civil Service Bureau, Hong Kong] [Reuters]

In response, the Union for New Civil Servants, a Hong Kong civil service union established during the 2019 pro-democracy protests, was disbanded. The union cited for its decision expectations that it will have not sufficient personnel as it is expected that officers of the union will be unable to remain in the government, leading to their disqualification as member and officers of the union. [Hong Kong Free Press]

Critics view the demand for the allegiance pledge as latest attempt of the government to crack down on dissent within the ranks of the government. [South China Morning Post] [Jurist]

19 January 2021

China: Unsafe drinking water provided to 100 million Chinese

(dql) Findings of a study of Tsinghua University revealed that almost 100 million Chinese have been supplied with drinking water with levels of toxicity above safety limits. The study was based on observations of the levels of per and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) in more than 60 cities with a total of population of 450 million.  

PFAS are man-made chemicals widely used in the industry which, once in the water, end up in homes and the food chain. Since there are no national safety standards, the the US state of Vermont’s regulations were taken as the benchmark in the study. [Asia News]

19 January 2021

China/Hong Kong: First anti-government website blocked under national security law

(dql) Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN), one of the city’s largest telecoms provider, has confirmed that it has blocked the anti-government website HK Chronicles to comply with a related police order issued under the Hong Kong national security law. HK Chronicles had published material primarily pertaining to the anti-government protests in 2019 and operated as a pro-democracy doxing platform, disclosing personal information of police officers and pro-Beijing supporters. 

The shutdown of the website marks the first censorship of website under the Beijing-imposed legislation. The city’s courts have been bypassed in this process. [Hong Kong Free Press] [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]

Critics of the move see it as a step towards to the end of what has thus far been a relatively free and open internet in the former British colony, warning of a possible buildup of a censorship system resembling China’s “Great Firewall.” [Canberra Times] [AP]

For insights into recent regulatory efforts of the Chinese Communist Party (CPP) to strengthen its control over the internet see Willy Wo-Lap Lam in [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief 1] who suggests that they are part of a set of recent measures aimed at preserving political stability and further cementing Xi Jinping’s grip on power ahead of the politically important centenary of the Chinese Communist Party in summer this year. 

For estimates on spending for monitoring and removing web content in China in 2020 totaling at least than 6.6 billion USD see Ryan Fedasiuk in [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief 2].

12 January 2021

China: Rights lawyers’ suspended, revoked

(dql) A Chinese lawyer has been suspended for a year after posting videos on social media which allegedly showed police torturing witnesses and a defendant, he was representing, to extract confessions. [Yahoo News]

Meanwhile, Chinese judicial authorities have announced to revoke licenses of two lawyers, both having represented two of the 12 Hong Kong fugitives who had been intercepted by the Chinese coast guard while trying to flee to Taiwan in summer last year. Ten of them were sentenced to between seven months and three years in prison for illegal border crossing, while the two youngest were returned to Hong Kong for trial on charges related to anti-government protests last year.

The two lawyers, who are known for their outspoken critic of the Chinese legal process, are accused of “publishing inappropriate speech online,” and “severely damaging the image of the industry,” as well as “causing negative impacts on society.” [Daily Mail]

12 January 2021

China: High-profile corruption cases

(dql) High-profile corruption trials that concluded with a life imprisonment verdict and a capital punishment sentence have again drawn attention to President Xi Jinping’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign which has so far snared over 1.3 million officials from powerful “tigers” to low-ranking “flies” since its launch in 2012. [AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]

Hu Huaibang, the former chairman of the China Development Bank (CDB), was sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of accepting bribes of more than 13.2 million USD between 2009 and 2019 for helping others obtain bank credits, operate their businesses, and secure promotions. [Reuters]

Former chairman of China Huarong Asset Management, one of China’s four largest state-owned bad-debt management companies, Lai Xiaomin was handed a death sentence for bribery totaling 277 million USD over ten years leading up to 2018, the highest amount in more than seven decades since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. [CNN]


12 January 2021

China: Plans for establishing Chinese socialist rule of law under the leadership of the party unveiled 

(dql) The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has released plans for an overhaul of China’s legal system in the next five years to build “a system of distinctively Chinese socialist rule of law” by 2035 under which “the people’s right to equal participation and development will be fully guaranteed, and the modernization of the nation’s governance system and capabilities will be largely achieved.” 

Reform measures, identified in the blueprint, include the comprehensive implementation of the constitution and the introduction of a complete system of laws which comes along with an efficient system for law enforcement, a rigorous legal supervision system, a strong system of legal guarantee, and a sound system of intra-Party regulations.

The plans also stress the “centralized and unified” leadership of the party as “most fundamental guarantee” for the development of the socialist rule of law. [Sohu, in Chinese]

President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, in a speech at a top-level party meeting – attended by all members of the party’s highest decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, as well as by Vice-President Wang Qishan, known as Xi’s right-hand man – called for confidence, conviction and discipline in the CCP at a critical juncture of history as “the world is currently undergoing a major transformation not seen in the past hundred years.” While Xi expressed his conviction that “time and momentum,” was on China’s side and that the opportunities outweigh the challenges for China, he cautioned that the “entire party must continue to be modest and prudent, struggle hard, mobilize all mobilizable positive factors, unite all strength, handle its matters with full energy, and work with perseverance on carrying out our set objective” of realizing the modernization of socialism with Chinese characteristics. [Xinhua, in Chinese] [South China Morning Post]

12 January 2021

China: Revised rule books for party members and United Front to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party

(dql) The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) last week released amendments to its regulations on the rights of party members to include new guidelines pertaining to the internal complaint mechanism. Among   others, the new rules will not treat work-related mistakes of cadres as discipline violations and give cadres the right to propose the removal of their leaders in case of proven incompetence. Furthermore, party members – while entitled to report misconduct by other members, including superiors – are not allowed to disseminate such information at will and are not allowed to do so on the internet.

The revision also changes the wording of a clause in article 16 which reads: “A member of the party must not publicly express opinions inconsistent with decisions of the central leadership.” A similar clause in article 12 of the previous 2004 version of the regulations banned the open expression of opinions that are the “contrary” the leadership’s decisions. Insofar, the change from ‘opposite’ to ‘inconsistent’ reflects a more far-reaching curbing of public comments on decisions of the party’s leadership. [Xinhua, in Chinese] [News.12371, in Chinese] [South China Morning Post]

The new regulations come half a year ahead of the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, which under President Xi Jinping’s “systematic approach to strengthening and reinforcing the organisational resilience of the CCP at all levels” in pursuit of a “Party-dominated modernity” for China has become a “fundamentally different organisation … than it was before, both in terms of the role it plays in society, and the political and ideological expectations that come with membership,” Jude Blanchette argues in [East Asia Forum].

Meanwhile, the CCP has also published a revised set of regulations on the work of the United Front Work Department which call for increased efforts to win “the love for the motherland, the Communist Party and socialism with Chinese characteristics,” among overseas Chinese and to contain at the same time “Taiwan-independence forces” among them. The regulations were approved by the party’s Politburo earlier in November last year. [Yahoo News]

12 January 2021

China: Over 50 arrests in largest crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy politicians and advocates since national security legislation

(dql) On Wednesday last week, more than 50 people were arrested in citywide police operation in Hong Kong, involving more than 1.000 officers raiding nearly 80 places at dawn. The arrested include pro-democracy politicians and campaigners accused of “subverting state power” under the Hong Kong national security law. Almost all of them were released on bail a day later. [The Guardian] [Deutsche Welle]

The accusation refers to informal primaries organized in July last year by opposition parties to identify which of their candidates had the best chances in the Legislative Council (LegCo) election – then slated for September – and at which candidates announced to boycott government proposals and increase pressure for democratic reforms in case the opposition would win the majority in the election.  More than 600.000 people voted in the primaries, giving the opposition a huge legitimacy boost and increased the opposition’s expectations to win for the first time the majority in the LegCo. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam had warned at that time that the primaries could amount to subversion if the candidates intended to obstruct government policies through their election. 

The election was later postponed, with officials citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the delay, while opposition politicians called the election postponement a political maneuver of the government to steal their possible election victory. [BBC] [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2] [AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1]

Observers view the arrests as the latest sign of Beijing’s determination to rein in political opposition and to openly exert a heavier hand in the former British colony. In earlier moves, high-profile democracy activists and advocates were arrested, including Jimmy Lai, media tycoon and founder of the regime-critical tabloid Apple Daily, and Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, leading figures of the now disbanded political party Demosisto. While the former is standing trial for breaching the national security law, the latter two have already been sentenced to jail for organizing an unlawful anti-government rally in 2019. [AP] [Washington Post] [New York Times] [AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2

In a related development, the Hong Kong police has reportedly invoked the national security law to block access to the website HKChronicles which publishes material primarily pertaining to the anti-government protests in 2019. [Reuters]

12 January 2021

Thailand, China to notify of river flow hold back

(nd) The Mekong River Commission (MRC) and Thailand reported that China notified its downstream neighbors about its holding back of the Mekong River flow at a hydropower dam on the waterway’s upper reaches for 20 days. The water restriction started on December 31 and the newly introduced US-backed monitoring system already asserted that China had failed to notify downstream countries. The cited reason for the holding back was “maintenance of transmission lines” in its electricity grid, with the flow being gradually restored by January 25. Last October, China agreed to share such water data with the MRC. [Bangkok Post]

12 January 2021

Myanmar, China to meet this month

(nd) As first high-level official visit after the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) landslide victory in the election in November, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Myanmar this month. It is expected that Wang’s visit will speed up the construction of projects delayed by the pandemic under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

Issues could arise due to the lack of participation of residents and ethnic states and little information shared, which could lead to protests against these projects upon the beginning of construction. The development of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in western Rakhine State, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone in Shan and Kachin states, and the New Yangon City project in Myanmar’s commercial capital were named as pillars of the CMEC by Chinese president Xi Jinping. None of the CMEC projects has reached the implementation stage yet.

While Myanmar’s earlier role vis-à-vis China was rather passive, officials in Naypyitaw now argue that Myanmar should be more pragmatic in dealing with China, urging the country to developing projects itself and communicate with the public and then negotiate with China. Both countries’ relationship iscomplex with China being the largest neighbor and trade partner, who will gain economic control over Myanmar’s through the development projects – a criticism that follows all projects of the BRI globally, including the potential for debt trap diplomacy, implications for national sovereignty, environmental issues and security risks. [Irrawaddy]

12 January 2021

Indonesia: Bakamla armed against rising tensions in the South China Sea

(nd) Last month, the civilian maritime force, Bakamla, in the northern Natuna Island armed its vessels with machine guns due to recurringly intruding vessels from China and Vietnam. While Indonesia does not consider itself as a claimant sate in the South China Sea, China’s historic fishing right claims overlap with Indonesia’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The move is delicate due to its possible effect on bilateral relations. China is Indonesia’s largest trade partner, with a trade volume of US$79.4 billion in 2019. With the efforts to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, Indonesia is dependent on vaccination, with 1.2 million doses of Sinovac having arrived in early December.

Bakamla was authorized last summer to procure weapons, and ships were fitted with remote-controlled Stabilised Naval Gun Systems in December. This was also in response to an increase in calls from parliament and the public, in an effort to curb anti-China groups. Analyst therefore did not interpret the latest move as a toughening of Indonesia’s position but rather an effort to prevent an escalation. The same logic applies to Vietnamese fishing boats, due to an unresolved overlap of the respective EEZ claims. While an increase in arms might serve as a deterrence, the numbers of ships are still outweighed by those of the Chinese coastguard, which is why Bakamla still relies on larger ships of the Indonesian Navy.

Experts expect Chinese naval actions to be more focused on the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam this year, while it usually carefully balanced its moves to not be putting pressure on all claimant countries at the same time, possibly to avoid a multilateral reaction. [South China Morning Post]

12 January 2021

Indonesia: Underwater vehicle Chinese-made

(nd) The autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that was found off South Sulawesi last month, which sparked concerns of a security breach or espionage attempt, was made in China. The location is strategic due to its sea lanes used for trade, and the resource-rich waters are rich fishing grounds and energy reserves alike. Due to the rising tensions in the South China Sea, security officials have voiced suspicion about Chinese maritime activities. Still, the location of origin is unclear and no country had claimed the vehicle.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), marine scientific research in a country’s exclusive economic zone should only be conducted with the consent of the respective state. [South China Morning Post] [See also AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]

12 January 2021

India must do more to become China alternative for manufacturers, says outgoing US ambassador

While delivering a farewell address on the US-India partnership, Washington’s outgoing ambassador to India criticized Prime Minister Modi’s trade policies, saying New Delhi will need to take more policy action if it wants to become a new destination for manufacturing investments in the Indo-Pacific region in the post-pandemic era. [South China Morning Post]

As China is currently facing an unprecedented global backlash destabilizing its reign as the world’s factory of choice, the Modi administration has sensed an opportunity and has prioritized efforts to attract supply chains, both at central and state government level. However, attempts to attract US companies looking at setting up manufacturing facilities out of China have so far yielded little success mainly because of differences on market access. Last year, India announced its withdrawal from a crucial multilateral trade agreement with fifteen other Asia-Pacific economies, collectively known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), despite seven years of negotiations [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Observers say decisions like these make it difficult for Indian exporters to benefit from tariff-free access to destination markets or offer reciprocity to its trading partners.

During the event, the outgoing ambassador also commented on the possibility of sanctions hanging over New Delhi’s ongoing deals with Moscow for military hardware, including the S-400 surface-to-air missile system [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. While he assured that sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) were not were never designed to harm “friends and allies” of Washington, he also cautioned that New Delhi might soon have to choose between “trade-offs”, namely inter-operability and diversification of sources of procurement. [Hindustan Times]

Meanwhile, a United States delegation led by the Consul General Hyderabad met on January 5 with the chief minister of India’s southwestern state of Andhra Pradesh. During the meeting, the delegation expressed Washington’s interest in setting up an American Hub in the state’s executive capital, Visakhapatnam – the second one in the country after Ahmedabad. [The New Indian Express]

12 January 2021

China pulls 10,000 troops from Line of Actual Control to rear positions

(lm) Showing goodwill in de-escalating the border tension, China has reportedly withdrawn 10,000 troops from its disputed border with India over the course of the past two weeks, with Beijing acknowledging that extreme weather conditions make it impossible for both sides to fight. Still, the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) frontline deployments remain unchanged, according to Indian sources. [South China Morning Post 1] [Hindustan Times]

Earlier, the Indian army on January 11 returned a Chinese soldier it had taken into custody earlier last week for transgressing into the Indian side in an area south of Pangong Tso lake. This was the second detention on the high-altitude border: Last October, the Indian Army returned another Chinese soldier it had apprehended after he ‘strayed’ across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into Indian-controlled Ladakh’s Demchok area [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. [Deutsche Welle] [South China Morning Post 2]

Although Chinese troops have pulled back from some training areas on the adjacent Tibetan plateau, the Chinese military, for one thing, has established a fully-fledged strategic observation post near the crucial trijunction border area between India, China, and Bhutan. The bone of contention in the 2017 Doklam standoff, the plateau is of strategic importance to New Delhi, because it overlooks the Siliguri corridor, a narrow stretch of land also known as the ‘Chicken’s Neck’ that connects India’s north-east with the mainland [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]. [South China Morning Post 3]

For another thing, an unspecified number of Indian soldiers belonging to the Rashtriya Rifles, a counter-insurgency force of the Indian Army, has been shifted to the LAC. The soldiers had hitherto been deployed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to fight the popular armed insurgency. Moreover, India’s Army Chief General Naravane said on January 12 he expected another round of talks soon, although several rounds of talks have so far made little headway in deflating tensions over the disputed border. [The Straits Times] [Anadolu Agency]


12 January 2021

China-Africa relations: Chinese Foreign Minister visits five African countries

(dql) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Africa good-will tour last week, took him to five countries, including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and Seychelles. 

In Abuja, Wang vowed that China will continue to support infrastructure building in Nigeria, to encourage more investment by Chinese businesses, as well as to carry out cooperation in free trade parks, aimed at advancing Nigeria’s industrialization process. [Xinhua]

Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, meanwhile, revealed that his country is in talks with China to procure China-made coronavirus vaccines. His revelation came amid concerns that African countries could be pushed to the back of the waiting list for Covid-19 vaccinations. [South China Morning Post 1]

During his second stop in Kinshasa, Wang and his Congolese counterpart Marie Tumba Nzeza signed an Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the frame of the Belt and Road initiative, making Congo the 45thAfrican country to join China’s infrastructure development project. At the same meeting, Wang also announced that China will waive Congolese debts worth estimated 28 million USD and provide further financial assistance of 17 million USD. [China.Org] [South China Morning Post 2]

Following Congo, Botswana also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China for cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), after talks between Wang Yi and his Botswana counterpart Lemogang Kwape in Gaborone in which both sides agreed to reinforce bilateral and diplomatic relations. [Africa News]

Meanwhile, in his talks with Tanzanian Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi, Wang reassured that China “is ready to strengthen the exchange of governance experience with Tanzania, advance and discuss practical cooperation in railways, infrastructure and agriculture in line with Tanzania’s national development needs and encourage Chinese companies to import more Tanzanian products.” In a related development, Tanzanian President John Magufuli requested China to cancel some of his country’s debts amounting to more than 167 million USD, while the Tanzanian government signed with two Chinese construction companies a 1.3 billion USD contract to build a railway line in Tanzania to connect its main port to neighboring countries. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China] [Caixin] [Africa Logistics]

During Wang’s final leg of his Africa tour in the Seychelles, the Chinese Foreign Minister reaffirmed that the Belt and Road initiative remains open to the Seychelles to join, adding that Beijing seeks to intensify efforts to boost cooperation with Seychelles in the three areas of green environmental protection, blue ocean and tourism. Wang’s visit also saw the signing of an agreement part of which is a Chinese grant of 11 million USD, including 4.6 million USD to assist the Indian ocean island nation with a project that will help the country generate more renewable energy. [Xinhua] [Seychelles News Agency]

12 January 2021

China-UK relations: London set to outlaw Chinese imports with links to human rights abuse in Xinjiang

(dql) Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is believed to unveil this week plans to ban imports of goods suspected of using forced labor in Xinjiang. The ban target’s especially Xinjiang’s cotton industry, but the plans are expected to also include tougher laws on exporting goods or technology that could be used for repressive policies. 

The anticipated move will further worsen already strained Sino-British relations over London’s criticism of the crackdown on democracy protesters in Hong Kong and on the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. [Aljazeera]

12 January 2021

China-Australia relations: Canberra blocks Chinese takeover of building contractor

(dql) In a latest sign of frosty relations between China and Australia, Canberra rejected a 300 million USD takeover bid of state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation for Australian-based company Probuild, a major building contractor. The Australian government cited security concerns for its decision, including worries that China could access sensitive information about national infrastructure built by Probuild, for example Victoria’s police headquarters’ design and vaccine laboratories. [Daily Mail]


12 January 2021

Cross-strait relations: China displays weapons targeting Taiwan

(dql) Images of the year-opening training session of an artillery brigade of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) revealed a new variant of the powerful the PCL-191 long-range multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), capable of hitting strategic targets with precision fire anywhere on the Taiwan’s west coast. 

It was the first public display of the updated weapon, viewed by experts as one of the world’s most powerful of its kind, since its appearance at China’s National Day parade in 2019. [South China Morning Post]

In a related development, the PLA Rocket Force showcased ten types of active short and intermediate-range missiles targeting “Taiwan independence-leaning forces”, in a documentary of state broadcaster China Central Television released on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the founding organization. [ABS-CBN]

Formerly the Second Artillery Corps, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) is the strategic and tactical missile forces of China. Established in 2016, the PLARF controls the country’s arsenal of land-based ballistic missiles – both nuclear and conventional.

12 January 2021

Chinese state media fire stitches over Capitol occupation

(dql) Chinese state media were quick to pour vials of wrath on the US over the occupation of the Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump. 

Besides contrasting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statements on the occupation of Hong Kong’s parliament on the one hand and the storm on the Capitol on the other (“We stand with the People in Hong Kong” vs “Lawlessness and Rioting is always unacceptable”), Global Times cited Chinese netizens’ commenting on the mob with words like “karma,” “retribution” and “deserving”.  A target was also House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who last year described an image of the occupation of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council with the words “a beautiful sight to behold.” A tweet, cited by Global Times, ask her whether she “will say the same about the recent developments in Capitol Hill.” [Global Times] [EurAsian Times] [Hong Kong Free Press]

12 January 2021

China-US relations: Trump bans Chinese software apps

(dql) Citing the protection of national security, US President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order to ban eight Chinese software applications, including popular online payments providers Ant Group’s Alipay, QQ Wallet and WeChat Pay.

The order will take effect in 45 days and is the latest in a string of bans ordered by Trump against Chinese companies, including China’s largest ones: Huawei, chipmaker SMIC and drone manufacturer DJI Technology along with other firms considered by the US government to have links to the Chinese military. [BBC]

China’s Ministry of Commerce, meanwhile, issued a new bylaw according will make third-party, non-American entities in China punishable in case they comply with Washington’s punitive measures and inflict losses to their Chinese customers and partners. [Asia Times]

12 January 2021

China-US tensions over Taiwan: Beijing warns of US UN ambassador’s and Pompeo’s planned visits to Taipei

(dql/nm) Taiwan’s government and the US mission to the UN announced, that US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft will visit Taiwan from January 13-15 to meet with senior Taiwanese leaders. The visit is of highly symbolic nature as Taiwan is not member of the UN. Craft is set to give a statement on Taiwan’s contributions to the global community, along with a call for the expansion of Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.

Following Undersecretary of State Keith Krach in September and Health and Human Rights Secretary Alex Azar in August last year, Craft will be third senior US official to visit Taiwan within half a year, reflecting US heightened efforts to support Taipei amid high running tensions between Washington and Beijing. In response, China’s UN mission warned that “whoever plays with fire will burn himself. The United States will pay a heavy price for its wrong action,” and called on Washington “to stop its crazy provocation.” [Reuters] [MENA FN]

The announcement of Craft’s Taiwan visit was followed by a statement of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo past weekend in which he revealed that the State Department would move to ease restrictions on contacts and interactions between US and Taiwan officials which had been put in place after the adoption of the “One China policy” in 1979. A planned visit of Pompeo to Taiwan – which would have been his final overseas trip as state secretary – however, was cancelled after China threatened to send warplanes over Taiwan in case of the visit. [Department of State, USA] [The Guardian] [Taiwan News]

12 January 2021

China: Advancing military aircraft

(dql) China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force has offered insights into a new twin-seat variation of China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet and a J-20 version equipped with an indigenously made engine in official videos recently released shortly ahead of the 10th anniversary of the maiden flight of the aircraft.

Chinese experts claim that the additional seat of the J-20 could allow for more complicated tasks such as electronic warfare, command of wingman drones or tactical bombing, while the domestic engine  proves that China no longer relies on Russian engines for the J-20.  [Global Times]


12 January 2021

China: Space station on the way

(dql) China is set to launch three major missions in the next few months to begin the construction phase of the country’s space station project. 

The first of 11 planned missions to construct a three-module Chinese space station, the three launches mark the beginning of the end phase of a project which had been approved in 1992 to develop human spaceflight capabilities and establish a long-term crewed presence in low Earth orbit. [Space News]


5 January 2021

Cross-strait relations: Taipei and Beijing issue convictions against Taiwanese nationals 

(nm) Last week, a Taiwanese businessman was found guilty of working with Chinese intelligence in contravention of the National Security Act and handed a three-month jail sentence or payment of a fine by the Taipei District Court. The man had been charged in August for attempting to “develop an organization” for the official use of a foreign government. The case is still open for appeal. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Taipei Times 1]

Meanwhile, 29 Taiwanese nationals were sentenced to four-and-a-half years to 14 years in prison by a Beijing court for telecoms fraud committed in Spain in 2016. The defendants were allegedly members of a fraud ring that operated from Spain but defrauded 14 Chinese nationals residing in China and Hong Kong by pretending to be Chinese law enforcement officials and swindling money. [Focus Taiwan 2] [Taipei Times 2]

5 January 2021

Chinese delegation downplays visit to Nepal

(lm) The Chinese delegation dispatched in the wake of the dissolution of Nepal’s lower house of parliament [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5] wrapped up its four-day visit on December 30, after meetings with Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leaders, including Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, and his two intraparty rivals, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal.

While members of the delegation claimed their visit was focused on strengthening ties between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and political parties in Nepal, observers say the group explored several options to retain the dominance of the communist parties in Nepal’s politics, including forging an alternative alliance led by the NCP for the upcoming general elections: The first was to convince Prime Minister Oli to reverse his decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call for early election [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4] in exchange for being allowed to lead the caretaker government. But the prime minister refused the proposal, saying there was no guarantee that the rivaling faction would not try to topple his government. Dahal and Nepal, in turn, also refused to give any commitments, demanding that the prime minister should reverse the order to dissolve parliament first. [Hindustan Times]

Moreover, the Chinese delegation also explored the possibility of mobilizing an alternative government led by the NCP – but minus Prime Minister Oli – in case the dissolution is reversed by the Supreme Court (SC) [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. To this end, the group held meetings with leaders from Nepal’s two major opposition parties, Nepali Congress (NC) and Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP-N), testing the water for cross-party support of a Dahal-led NCP. The team also reached out to the next generation of NCP leaders from both camps to get them to nudge their seniors to keep the party united. [The Himalayan Times

5 January 2021

China, Russia to vote against resolution against Myanmar 

(nd) A draft resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar was adopted 130-9 by the UN General Assembly, with Russia, China, Belarus, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Myanmar themselves voting against it, and 26 countries, including India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Singapore abstaining from voting.

India said they engaged with Myanmar at every level, Japan commented they were also communicating with Myanmar directly, while China said they were trying to negotiate with Myanmar and Bangladesh. [New Age World]


5 January 2021

Sri Lanka signs currency swap agreements with China and India

(lm) To boost its foreign currency reserves and maintain short-term foreign exchange liquidity, Sri Lanka is seeking currency swap facilities with the respective central banks of China and India combined worth $2.5 billion. The negotiations come at a time when Colombo is gearing up to repay a daunting $4.5 billion of its outstanding foreign loans this 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. [South Asia Monitor]

Colombo’s financial vulnerability is providing a fresh opportunity for both Beijing and New Delhi to deepen their influence in the island nation as they engage in a growing contest to gain the upper hand in the strategic Indian Ocean. China, which styles itself as an all-weather friend to Sri Lanka, already provided $500 million ‘urgent financial assistance’ last year, to help cope with the economic knock-on effects of the pandemic [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. India, in turn, provided a $400m currency swap facility last year through the Reserve Bank of India, its central bank, helping to boost the island’s reserves [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4].

5 January 2021

Pakistan, China agree on need to deepen cooperation

(lm) During a telephone conversation between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, both sides on December 31 agreed to deepen their cooperation and work together for peace and stability in the region. The same day, representatives of both countries signed a loan agreement worth $100 million for the rehabilitation of the National Highway N-5 Project, an 1819-km road artery linking the port of Karachi to Peshawar and the Afghan border. [Dawn] [The Nation]

To maintain the momentum of high-level exchange, Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to visit Islamabad early this year. However, it now appears that the trip may not happen in the coming months as Qureshi has been invited to visit Beijing, instead.

China, meanwhile, has dismissed reports that it sought additional guarantees from Pakistan before sanctioning a $6 billion loan for the construction of a railway line project [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. Beijing also rejected claims that it was moving away from its initial commitments to Islamabad under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, after Pakistani media had reported that concerns over Pakistan’s ability to pay back loans had emerged in recent negotiations. [WION] [The Hindu]

5 January 2021

Talks with China yet to make progress to end border stand-off, says India

(lm) While more than 100,000 soldiers of both armies remain deployed in harsh winter conditions, talks between India and China have yet to make headway to end the months-long border stand-off, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said on December 30. Notwithstanding periodic hopes for a resolution [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3], a breakthrough has hitherto eluded several rounds of diplomatic and military talks. Yet, both sides are still exchanging messages over the border situation and another round of military talks was in the offing, according to Singh. [The Straits Times]

Recognizing that Beijing has an immense military advantage, observers suggest that India is stalling for time, privily accepting that a diplomatic solution is unlikel