Asia in Review Archive 2020 (January – June)

China (People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

26 May 2020

Laos on the brink of debt crisis, China ready to step in and expand influence

(jn/jk) Credit Rating Agency Fitch has downgraded its outlook of Laos to negative, even as the long-term default rating is maintained as “B-“. This assessment is reflective of the economic and financial-market effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that have exacerbated the countries’ external financial risks, namely its forthcoming external debt maturities and its low foreign exchange reserves. Outstanding external debt for this year is said to amount to $900 million, and to $1 billion annually from 2021-2023, standing against low foreign exchange reserves of just $1 billion (and a nominal GDP of $20 billion).

About 86% of public debt is held by external creditors in foreign currency, most notably by  China, accounting for half of that sum. Fitch has also revised its originally forecasted GDP-growth of 5.5% to just 0.5% for this year. 

Of the economic activity resuming after a pandemic-induced lockdown, work at the China-Laos railway (AiR No. 19, May/2020, 2) is the most important factor, even as this project comes with a price tag of more than $800 million for Vientiane for which China has made available a low interest loan. A milestone has been achieved by Chinese engineers last week by completing the drilling of the China-Laos Railway Friendship Tunnel, running through the Laos-China border in the country’s north. [Xinhua

China’s economic reach further extends to Laos’ energy supply system, for which a subsidiary of the largest Chinese state-owned power producer will erect a 684-megawatt dam for $2 billion at the upper Mekong. Scheduled to be operational by 2028, the dam is envisaged to generate energy for Thailand which so far has not shown any need, but it is certain to impact the downstream of the river as well as local livelihoods, food-security and the environment. Severe droughts are already exacerbated by 11 dams on the Chinese part of the river, leading to record lows in water levels as found in a recent study. [Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI)]

The Chinese cash flow for development projects in Laos is accompanied by an influx of thousands of Chinese skilled workers who are necessary to compensate for the lack of a comparable workforce in Laos. They, too, are an indicator of China’s increasing dominance in the country, while other top investors like Thailand and Vietnam are themselves preoccupied with keeping their economies afloat. Laos’ economic and political dependence would have grown anyway given its novel international train connection and China’s strategic economic commitment, but the economic marks left by the pandemic will help accelerate this trend. [Asia Times] [Fitch Ratings] [Bangkok Post]

 

26 May 2020

Deterrence in the Pacific: US Navy Sends Submarines to Sea 

(jk) The US Pacific Fleet Submarine Force announced that “all of its forward-deployed subs were simultaneously conducting “contingency response operations” at sea in the Western Pacific”. [Military.com]

The openly announced deployment of the submarines, as well as the uptick in activities in and around the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait [e.g. The Drive] are clear signals of tensions that are continuing to increase and another sign that the US is slowly refocusing its deterrence strategy amid Chinese naval activity. 

26 May 2020

Pakistan looks to China for more investments and credits

(ls) Like most countries in the world, Pakistan has seen a sharp drop of commercial activities since the beginning of the global coronavirus crisis. Prime Minister Imran Khan is now looking for further investment and credits from China to stimulate the economy. He has prioritized the revival of the construction sector and launched a renewed push for infrastructure projects in the hope they would revitalize associated domestic industries and incentivize new investment in the job-generating manufacturing sector. Several project proposals are currently being finalized as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). These include railway, motorway, hydropower and airport projects. Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to visit Pakistan in July, but this visit has been postponed. [South China Morning Post]

The development can be seen against the backdrop of a report on energy project costs commissioned by PM Khan’s government which unveiled significant corruption problems and inflated costs in major projects, many of which belonging to the BRI. [Asia in Review, No. 20, May/2020, 3]

26 May 2020

India’s new leadership and counterbalance against China in the WHO?

(ls) India has been able to increase its influence in the World Health Organization (WHO) in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Harsh Vardhan, India’s minister of health and family welfare, became the chairman of the WHO’s Executive Board last week. India also occupies the positions of external auditor, which oversees the WHO’s spending, and chief scientist. India’s increased engagement in international organizations appears to make the country a potential partner for Western countries seeking to counter China’s growing influence in global fora. A piece in The Diplomat looks at the prospects of India’s potential. [The Diplomat]

26 May 2020

New episode in China-India border tensions

(ls) The continued tensions at the border between China and India in the Galwan region in the western Himalayas [Asia in Review, No. 19, May/2020, 2] has seen another episode. Last week, the Indian foreign ministry said that Chinese troops had stood in the way of regular Indian patrols along their disputed border. China did not comment on the events directly. [Reuters]

26 May 2020

Cross-strait relations: Beijing sharpens re-unification rhetoric

(dql) In a sign of a hardening stance towards Taiwan, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang – speaking at the National People’s Congress two days after Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in her second term as Taiwan’s president – asserted Beijing’s resolute rejection of ‘Taiwan independence’ and its adherence to the ‘one country, two systems’ formula for reunification. Interestingly, different from all previous work reports since 2013, which emphasized ‘China’s peaceful reunification’ the word ‘peaceful’ was omitted this time. [South China Morning Post] [CTGN, for the work report 2020] [State Council, China, for the work report 2019]

Tsai on the other side stated in her inaugural speech that she would be open for dialogue with China, but reasserted her ‘Taiwan independent and equal’ stance and vowed to enhance Taiwan’s development of asymmetrical warfare in the next four years in office. [Focus Taiwan]

26 May 2020

China-USA relations: Tensions continue on high level

(dql/ef) Several developments in the past week have further worsened already strained Sino-US relations. 

Only weeks after the US Senate approved a pro-Taiwan bill [AiR No. 19, May/2020, 2], a US-Taiwanese arms deal was approved by US Congress. All in all, eighteen torpedoes that are suitable for submarines and worth 180 million USD were purchased by Taiwan. The US State Department stated that the torpedoes would improve the political stability, military balance, and economic development of the region. [Deutsche Welle] [Focus Taiwan] The PRC expressed firm opposition against the arms sales deal and urged the US to honor its commitment to the One-China-principle. [CGTN]

At the weekend the US government has blacklisted additional 33 Chinese companies and institutions, restricting their access to American technology and other items. The entities are suspect of links to the Chinese military and of being complicit in human rights violations against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. [South China Morning Post

Furthermore, statements of US Secretary of State Pompeo have angered China. In a first, he slammed China’s proposed national security law for Hong Kong, arguing that if passed the legislation would be a “death knell” for the autonomy of the city and urging Beijing to “reconsider its disastrous proposal.”

In a second, Pompeo congratulated via Twitter Tsai Ing-wen on her second presidency, hailing “Taiwan’s vibrant democracy” as “inspiration for the region and the world” and concluding that “with Tsai at the helm” the US “partnership with Taiwan will continue to flourish.” [CNN] [Republic World

In a third, Pompeo warned that the USA would disconnect from Australia, its key ally in the Asia-Pacific region, if the Belt and Road agreement between state Victoria and China which is in the stage of being finalized would impact telecommunications. [News] For deeper insights into Australia’s difficult position between China as its major trading partner and the USA as its major strategic ally see the debate between John Mearsheimer and Hugh White at [Youtube 1]. 

With regards to another key US ally, namely England, it is interesting to see that General Sir Nick Carter, the British government’s most senior uniformed military adviser, in an interview on security issues openly disavows Pompeo’s accusations against China of covering up that the coronavirus originated from a laboratory in Wuhan. [Youtube 2]  

26 May 2020

China/Hong Kong: Former IPCC advisor accuses city’s police of using disproportionate force against protesters

(dql) In response to the report on police force behavior during protests released earlier this month by Hong Kong’s Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) which basically exonerates the police from charges of excessive brutality in handling the protests [AiR No. 20, May/2020, 3], a former member of the international expert panel advising the IPCC presented counter statement accusing the police of using force in disproportionate way at “practically every” anti-government protest from mid-June last year on. [South China Morning Post]

For another critical account of the IPCC report see Wilson Leung and Brian Dooley at [Hong Kong Free Press] who argue that the report is “an apologia for the police” and “fails even nominally to demonstrate independence.”

 

26 May 2020

China: Hardening stance against Hong Kong as National People’s Congress kicks off 

(dql) Delayed for two months because of Covid-19, last week China’s 2020 meetings of National People’s Congress (NPC), along with those of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), kicked off with the opening state-of-the-country address, in official Communist wording ‘work report’, on Friday delivered by Premier Li Keqiang.

Besides highlighting the government’s (and the Communist Party leadership’s) successes in 2019, Li focused on the government’s plans for reviving the country’s economy, including 500 billion USD in infrastructure bonds and monetary easing. Breaking with Communist planning habits, Li announced that the government for the first time in decades will not set an annual for economic growth bowing to the uncertainties in the wake of the pandemic. [CNN] [Bloomberg] [CTGN, for the work report 2020]

In an earlier move prior to the opening of the NPC, the government last Thursday submitted to the NPC for deliberation and approval a draft of the so-called “Hong Kong National Security Law”, which bans acts of “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and allows mainland agencies to operate in the city as needed. The legislative step was echoed by the announcement in the work report that Beijing “will establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in the two special administrative regions, and see that the governments of the two regions fulfill their constitutional responsibilities.”

The move which bypasses Hong Kong’s legislative procedure has prompted a protest of thousands of people accusing Beijing of using that law to lever out Hong Kong’s autonomy. International condemnation followed quickly, too, with than 230 parliamentarians and policymakers from 26 countries across the world expressing in a joint statement grave concerns over the bill and calling it “a comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms,’ and warning that “[t]he integrity of one-country, two-systems hangs by a thread.” [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post] [Reuters] [Hong Kong Watch]

In response, Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi defended the bill assuring that it  “targets a very narrow category of acts that seriously jeopardize national security and has no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong,” concluding that it “ will protect the basic principle of ‘one country, two systems’.” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie, meanwhile, Lam announced her government’s full support of the law. [Ministry of Foreign Affiars, China] [Time]

For an interesting assessment of the Hong Kong National Security Law and its consequences for democracy and autonomy in Hong Kong, see Brian C. H. Fong at [The Diplomat] who describes Beijing’s move as “dropping a nuclear bomb” on Hong Kong which will not only harm the city’s legal and political system and business, but eventually also the interests of the Chinese Communist Party itself.

19 May 2020

South China Sea: Chinese-Malaysian stand-off ends as ships leave

(ls) Tensions have been easing in the South China Sea, as the Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 has left Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) after an oil exploration vessel of the Malaysian state oil firm Petronas had left the area before. The ships were involved in a month-long standoff in waters claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam as well as China. Chinese statements have maintained that the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was conducting normal activities. [Reuters]

 

19 May 2020

Tensions between China and Indonesia over alleged mistreatment of sailors

(ls) Indonesia’s foreign ministry said it was seeking more information about alleged incidents of Indonesian sailors having died after mistreatments on Chinese fishing vessels. An advocacy group said last weekend it concluded that the body of an Indonesian sailor was thrown off a Chinese ship near Somalia in January. Earlier this month, the government in Jakarta demanded an explanation from China regarding the sea burials of three Indonesian sailors in the Pacific Ocean between December and March. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that Beijing was investigating the reports. [Asian Nikkei Review]

19 May 2020

China kicks off series of military drills

(dql) China last week begun a two-and-a-half month series of military exercises in the Yellow Sea in Northern China. 

Analysts speculate whether the exercises involving two of China’s aircraft carriers are a routine combat ability boosting training or specifically aimed at preparing an attack on Taiwan. [Global Times] [Asia Times] [Taiwan News]

Meanwhile, the USS Rafael Peralta, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer capable of carrying out anti-aircraft and strike operations, was spotted last week sailing through the Yellow Sea off the coast of Shanghai, while at the same timeanother US warship, the USS MacCampbell, transited the Taiwan Strait on routine operations . [South China Morning Post] [Focus Taiwan]

For an overview of operations on the US 7th Fleet in May in its area of operations ranging from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the western coast of India, encompassing most of the Indian Ocean, see [The Diplomat]

19 May 2020

China hits Austria with barley tariffs and beef export ban 

(dql) Already strained relations between China and Australia over the latter’s push for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in China have further worsened after China announced to set an 80% tariff on Australian barley imports from May 19. 

In related move, Beijing has banned four Australian meat processing plants from exporting to China, citing compliance issues going back to 2017 as reason for the ban. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post]

In a first response, Canberra declared that it would not take retaliatory measures. [ABC News]

19 May 2020

China-USA relations: High tensions high over Covid-19

(dql) Sino-US tensions over Covid-19 are running high. In a latest in a string of recent moves to pressure the World Health Organisation (WHO) against China, US President Trump threatened in an open letter to WHO Director-GeneralTedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to permanently freeze US funding to the WHO and reconsider his country’s membership if the UN agency fails to “commit major substantive improvements within the next 30 days”. Accusing the WHO of a lack of independence from China and of the ensuing “repeated missteps” which “have been extremely costly for the world” he demanded that the WHO demonstrates “independence from China” as the “only way forward” for the agency. [First Post]

Echoing Trump’ attack, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar criticized in his address to annual meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA) the WHO for failing to “obtain the information the world needed” as well as China for making “mockery of their transparency obligations, at tremendous cost for the entire world.” [BBC News]

On the other side, Chinese President Xi Jinping, also addressing the WHA, lauded the WHO for its “major contribution in leading and advancing the global response to COVID-19,” and reiterated that China has been acting “with openness, transparency and responsibility”, asserting that the country has “provided information to WHO and relevant countries in a most timely fashion,” and announcing to provide 2 billion USD over two years for COVID-19 response measures as well as for economic and social development aid in affected countries, with a focus of developing countries.  [Xinhua

For a critical interpretation of Xi’s speech and the focus put on Africa therein see Valérie Niquet in [The Diplomat] who sees China hit hard by the backlash of the international community and struggling to re-claim the image of a benevolent power, especially in the Global South and Africa. 

For a critical perspective on Covid-19 related China-bashing and smear campaigns in the USA and other Western countries see Jian Qingguo in [East Asia Forum].

In a latest development, China expressed support for calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak as part of a “comprehensive evaluation” of the global response to the pandemic. However, President Xi insisted that the probe would only be conducted after the pandemic is under control. Xi’s announcement came after a European Union-drafted resolution calling for a probe into both how the pandemic began as well as the responses to it is believed to be approved by the WHA in this week. [Voice of America] [WHO]

19 May 2020

China: Prisoners of conscience targets of organ harvesting

(dql) An article in [The Jamestown Foundation: China Brief] draws attention to the problem of organ harvesting in China and makes serious allegations against Communist Party officials of executing prisoners of conscience “in order to harvest organs that can be monetized for substantial profits.” It identifies in particular detained members of the Falun Gong as target group of these killing as they abstain from drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco making their organs more desirable.

19 May 2020

China: Journalist critical of government’s coronavirus response detained

(dql) In another case of silencing critical reporting on the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, authorities have arrested a Chinese citizen journalist for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The female journalist has been writing and posting articles on social media since February in which she describes the impact of the lockdown on the citizens in Wuhan but also accuses the government of covering up the real scope of the virus outbreak, censoring media coverage and depriving people from human rights in the cause of fighting the pandemic. [Radio Free Asia] [South China Morning Post]

19 May 2020

China/Hong Kong: Chair of important committee elected after half-year blockade

(dql) Ending a vacancy since September last year, Starry Lee Wai-king, leader of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the largest pro-establishment Beijing-loyalist party, was elected as chairperson of the House Committee of the Legislative Council (LegCo), which scrutinizes bills introduced into the LegCo and determines when they are put to a final vote. Lawmakers from the opposition who protested the election for alleged breach of parliamentary procedures by the ruling parties and obstructed the podium were dismissed from the meeting and barred from the election. [The Standard]

Lee’s election and the resumption of normal operations of the committee means a – at least temporary – political victory of the pro-Beijing camp amid rising political heat in Hong Kong ahead of the legislation election in September. 

Since the post’s vacancy in September last year, opposition lawmaker Dennis Kwok presided over the previous 17 meetings of the committee. He has been accused of intentionally delaying the election the committee’s chairman by allowing opposition lawmakers to filibuster in the committee meetings, widely seen by his opponents as a political gambit to prevent the passage of laws the opposition rejects. This applies especially to the national anthem bill which criminalizes disrespecting China’s anthem, punishable with up to 50.000 Hong Kong dollars (approx. 6,450 USD) and three years in prison, and whose passage the city government has made a priority to appease Beijing. [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 19, May/2020, 2]

 

19 May 2020

China/Hong Kong: Report on police use of force during protests released

(dql) In its much-anticipated report on police force behavior during protests Hong Kong’s Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), the city’s police watchdog, basically exonerates the police from charges of excessive brutality in handling the protests. It argued that while acting in response to “violence they had to face in performance of their duty, the Police had found it necessary to resort on occasions to the use of force,” adding that Hong Kong’s police “has in place policies and procedures regarding the use of force which are well in line with international guidelines.” [South China Morning Post][IPCC, Hong Kong, for the full text of the report]

While Hong Kong Chief Executive lauded the report for being “comprehensive, objective” and “based on fact” and pledged to heed the report’s recommendation for improvement in internal enforcement and communication with the public, critics denounced the findings as “shocking whitewash” failing “to bring justice any closer for the repressive and unprofessional police operations seen during the protests.” CTGN] [The Guardian]  [Amnesty International]

 

12 May 2020

Indonesia urges China to investigate “burial at sea”

(jk) Indonesia’s government on the weekend spoke out against what it referred to as  inhuman treatment of its nationals by a Chinese fishing company. The company allegedly keeps Indonesian fishermen as without granting them basic rights and mistreating them gravely. At least at least three of them have been confirmed dead and were thrown overboard as caught on a video recording. [New Straits Times]

 

12 May 2020

China advances Belt and Road Initiative in Laos due to few Covid-19 infections 

(jn) After anti-coronavirus measures taken by governments in the region caused several weeks of delay, construction has resumed at the new China-Laos railway that is going to be a part of a highspeed train connection between the Chinese town Kunming and Singapore. As part of the global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the railway is envisaged to span more than 400 km through northern Laos and is scheduled to be finished by 2022.

The renewed activity has been facilitated by the particularly small number of 19 officially reported coronavirus cases, the lowest of any other ASEAN member. Even though the mild impact of the coronavirus cannot be independently confirmed, it at least matches a plausible curve in a country with sparse population and infrastructure as well as contactless social etiquette.

China plans to make use of the railway as an alternative transport route for resources like energy and food, and as a way to reduce its dependency on maritime connection hubs. Laos itself is bound to pay $900 million for the $6 billion project, a considerable amount against a GDP of barely $20 billion. In case of default it is expected that Laos will have to pay in land concessions and natural resources. [Asia Times]

12 May 2020

The South China Sea II: Vietnam rejects China’s fishing ban as it weighs next steps 

(jk/jn) After China had imposed a fishing ban in the South China Sea from May 1 to August 16 [Asia in Review No. 18, May/2020, 1], the Vietnamese government repudiated this move as a “unilateral decision” and asked China “not to further complicate the situation in the South China Sea”. The foreign ministry pointed to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and historical and legal evidence to buttress Vietnam’s claims to sovereignty over maritime territory that includes Paracel and Spratly Islands. The PRC justified the annual fishing moratorium with the need for stock conservation. 

According to the Chinese coastguard “strictest measures” will be taken against any “illegal fishing activities”. Experts have already warned tensions could further flare up in the region since a possible pandemic-induced food crisis could prompt governments to increase their support and protection for their fisheries. It is worth remembering that just last month Vietnam had accused a Chinese surveillance ship of ramming a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracel Islands that sank as a result, while China claimed the opposite. [Straits Times] [South China Morning Post]

Vietnam is also, once again, weighing whether to lodge a complaint with the permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague over Beijing’s controversial claims to the South China Sea as a legal means to counter China’s aggressive actions. This approach, previously floated on ministerial level last year [Reuters], would follow the model of proceedings won by the Philippines who defeated China in the same court in July 2016. Even though the ruling said that China had no historical rights to the territory outlined by the so-called “nine-dash line”, China boycotted the proceedings and announced it would ignore the decision. 

After diplomatic efforts like firm protests and warnings have been to little avail so far, a judgment in favor of Hanoi’s position could strengthen its hand in the international arena where displeasure with China over its handling and disinformation regarding the Covid-19 outbreak has already been rife. It would help Vietnam to internationalize the dispute at a time when it is also chairing the ASEAN and is holding a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council, even though substantive remedy cannot be expected in the latter body given China’s right to veto.  [Asia Times]

Other approaches to China’s encroachment on Vietnam’s territorial claims could encompass a halt to joint coast guard patrols, ending its participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or downgrade China’s partnership status. Vietnam could also strengthen or even militarize the protection for its national fishing fleet which, however, would give rise to the risk of armed conflict in which Vietnam is seriously out-gunned. A potentially less hazardous approach is to continue to work the levers of international diplomacy and seeking to build alliances as with ASEAN and increasingly with the US to find a strong counterweight to China’s military might, possibly even including access to Vietnamese military facilities. [The Diplomat][The Diplomat 2]

12 May 2020

The South China Sea I: The new administrative zones and increasing military operations  

(jk) As reported, China has recently announced that it has established administrative districts in the South China Sea, to which the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry responded that the move “seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty” and that China should “abolish wrong decisions”. [Asia in Review No. 16, April/2020, 3] [Reuters]

The pronouncement, despite the “ridiculousness” of China’s “historic territorial claims” as evidenced for instance by the meticulous research work of British academic Bill Hayton [Twitter thread], is potentially more challenging than “the occasional maritime pressure campaign or military exercise” for it “aims to formalize China’s control, with permanent effects”, according to recent analysis by a Vietnamese scholar published at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. She further asserts that while she would not expect the international community to recognize these claims, it would already be a win for Beijing if there is none or only limited objection. She concludes that China clearly has “no intention whatsoever” to recognize international maritime law any time soon, or that it seriously wants to achieve a dispute management system through an ASEAN processes since its actions go “against the letter of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct and the spirit of the Code of Conduct that is being negotiated”. [AMTI]

In terms of pushback, even if not directly aimed at the issue of administrative zones but rather at the increased Chinese aggressions overall, the US Navy has for the second time in a month sent its ships specifically to an area in the South China Sea that is the scene of an ongoing dispute over resource rights between China and Malaysia, in addition to the regularly occurring Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs). This was followed by US Pacific Fleet Commander clear statement that “[t]he Chinese Communist Party must end its pattern of bullying Southeast Asians out of offshore oil, gas, and fisheries.” [USNI News] The [South China Morning Post] reports in an article this week on the increased military operations by the United States in all waters close to China this year. 

 

12 May 2020

India’s territorial and border disputes with Nepal, China and in Kashmir flaring up

(ls) Several incidents have put India’s disputes with neighboring countries and in Kashmir in the spotlight. Last week, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80 km link road through the Lipu Lekh pass, which is a territory disputed between India and Nepal but currently under control of Indian border security forces. Nepal protested against the move and announced to increase the number of security outposts and deploy more armed personnel to the border with India.

Nepal’s interests have suffered several setbacks in recent years. Back in 2015, India and China agreed to include the Lipu Lekh Pass as a bilateral trade route, without consulting with Nepal. And in 2019, India released a new political map including the disputed territories, which led to Nepal’s protest. [Kathmandu Post] [Economic Times] [The Hindu]

At the border between India and China, two small-scale violent incidents in Ladakh and Sikkim occurred between troops of the two countries. Soldiers brawled and threw stones at each other. The acts have led both India and China to send additional troop reinforcements to the area, while at the same time officials played the incidents down. The last major violent clash between the Indian and Chinese troops took place along the Pangong Lake situated between Ladakh (India) and Ngari (China) in September 2019. In 2017, there was a brawl between Chinese and Indian soldiers near Ladakh and the standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam in the same year. [South China Morning Post] [Times of India]

Turning to another hotspot, Kashmir, where Indian troops have intensified operations amid India’s nationwide lockdown. Indian troops killed four militants in gun battles, including Riyaz Naikoo, the commander of the biggest separatist group, Hizbul Mujahideen. News of the operation triggered clashes across the region in which dozens were injured. Authorities disabled mobile internet across the Kashmir region. [Reuters]

12 May 2020

Japan: Protest against Chinese coast guard vessels chasing fishing boat in disputed waters

(dql) Japan lodged an official protest with China after Chinese vessels last week harassed a fishing boat in waters off what is known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands and in China as Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and claimed by both countries. In response, patrol ships of the Japan Coast Guard scrambled to safeguard the fishing boat and order the Chinese vessels to leave. [Japan Times]

According to Japan’s 2019 defense white paper, “In the East China Sea and other waters, China is expanding and intensifying its military activities at sea and in the air,” which “represent a serious security concern.” [The Diplomat]

China responded to the protest by insisting that it has an “inherent right” to patrol the waters in the disputed area in the East China Sea, adding that the chased boat was “illegally operating…in China’s territorial waters.” [Politiko]

 

12 May 2020

China-USA relations: New visa restrictions on Chinese journalists

(dql) The USA has tightened visa rules for Chinese journalists under which visas for Chinese passport holders are limited to 90 days with the option for an extension. The rules do not apply to journalists with passports from Hong Kong or Macau. 

According to the US Department for Homeland Security, this step has been taken “to address the actions of the PRC government and to enhance reciprocity in the treatment of US journalists in the PRC,” clearly presenting the new visa rules as the latest in a string of tit-for-tat measures in a ‘media war’ between China and the USA, including Beijing’s expulsion of US journalists on the one hand [AiR No. 12, March/2020, 4], and Washington’s restrictions on the work of Chinese state-run media outlets in the US. [AiR No. 9, March/2020, 1] [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4]

12 May 2020

China-USA relations: New tariff waivers for US imports

(dql) China has published a list of almost 80 products to be exempt from US trade tariffs, effective from next week for one year. It is the second batch of exclusions after a first one in September 2019. [South China Morning Post][AiR No. 40, October/2019, 1]

The announcement comes at a heated moment of Sino-US trade relations after President Trump last week said that he was “very torn” whether to terminate the ‘Phase One’ trade agreement and this week declared that he is not willing to re-negotiate the deal following Chinese media outlets citing advisers suggesting Chinese officials to push for talks on a new trade deal with better conditions for Chinese side. [CNBC] [Aljazeera]

 

12 May 2020

China: Labor activists released

(dql) Chinese authorities last week released five Chinese leading labor rights activists after 16 months in detention. Accused of ‘disturbing public order’, they had been detained in January last year as part of a crackdown on an attempt by factory workers to establish a trade union. [Reuters]

The case draws attention to the difficult situation of labor activists in China who have come under growing pressure in the recent past as the Communist Party has been tightening its grip on social organizations that have the potential to escape the party’s control. 

In another case, Zhang Xuezhong, a noted constitutional scholar, was released on Monday after being arrested for questioning on Sunday. Zhang posted an open letter on social media in which he addressed members of the National People Congress which will convene next week and suggested constitutional reforms, freedom of expression and the release of political detainees adding criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus. [South China Morning Post]

 

12 May 2020

China/Hong Kong: Lawmakers clash over paralyzed Legislative Council committee 

(dql) Political heat in Hong Kong is rising amid a resurgence of street protests [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 18, May/2020, 1] and ahead of the city’s legislative election scheduled for September. 

A meeting in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) last week ended up in tumult and physical clashes among lawmakers from the pro-Beijing parties on the one side and pro-democracy parties on the other after the former was able to wrench the control of a meeting of the LegCo’s House Committee from the latter which has so far formally led the committee meetings.

While the move was fiercely rejected by the oppositional pro-democratic camp as a breach of parliamentary procedures, the pro-Beijing camp justified it as a legal step to overcome the impasse in the committee caused by the continued filibuster of opposition lawmakers in the committee’s meetings which has prevented the election of the committee chairperson since last October and, thus, paralyzed the work the committee which is in charge of clearing bills and passing them to the LegCo for vote. 

The opposition’s course of actions is widely believed to be an attempt to prevent in particular two contentious bills from passage within the current legislative term which will end in July and in which the pro-Beijing camp has the majority. One is a bill criminalizing disrespecting China’s national anthem, punishable with up to 50,000 Hong Kong dollars (approx. 6,450 USD) and three years in prison, while the second one is a long-shelved bill for a national security law for the city according Article 23 of the Basic Law which stipulates that Hong Kong “shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.” [Nikkei Asian Review] [The Guardian]

An initial legislation effort failed in the wake of mass protests in 2003. Since then, the government has abstained from such a move. However, recently Beijing has pressured the government to push for such legislation. [The Diplomat]

5 May 2020

Analyses of recent South China Sea standoffs 

(ls) Several standoffs between Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese and American ships in the South China Sea over the last weeks [Asia in Review, No. 16, April/2020, 3] [No. 14, April/2020, 1] have shifted back the focus on this volatile region. Recent analyses evaluate the incidents and point to Southeast Asian countries’ situation of being caught up between major global powers with opposing interests while at the same time defending their own claims to territory and resources. [Foreign Policy] [The Diplomat]

5 May 2020

Philippines protests China’s ‘new’ districts in the South China Sea  

(dql) The Philippines last week lodged a strong protest against China’s establishment of the so-called Nansha and Xisha districts in the South China Sea put under the administration of China’s self-declared “Sansha City,” adding that China’s move “violate[s] Philippine territorial sovereignty.” [Rappler] [No. 16, April/2020, 3]

In a related development, fishermen’s associations in the Philippines and Vietnam protested China’s annual summer fishing ban in the South China Sea, urging their respective governments to oppose it. The protests come after China last Friday announced its annual moratorium on fishing within waters it claims jurisdiction over, including waters down to the 12th parallel of the South China Sea, encompassing the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal. Different from previous years, China added that this year it would crack down on vessels violating the ban. China has previously abstained from arresting any fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines, but have arrested Chinese fishing vessels for violating the ban. [Benar News] [Express]

5 May 2020

China’s supersonic stealth bomber possible ready this year

(dql) According to Chinese military sources, China’s new supersonic stealth bomber – the Xian H-20 – could be ready later this year. That would make China the third country after the US and Russia with the capacity to launch nuclear missiles from land, air, and sea.

Countries within Xian H-20’s strike range include – among others – the US allies Australia, Japan and South Korea. [South China Morning Post]

 

5 May 2020

China-USA economic de-coupling: Washington’s new export control rules 

(dql) In a move adding fuel to already existing high Sino-US tensions, the US Ministry of Commerce last week announced new rules which will tighten the export of certain sensitive technologies to China to prevent military end-users in China from obtaining those technologies. The rules cover a wide range of goods that will require review by regulators prior to obtaining approval for shipping and a definition of a military end-user based in China which is broad and covers private Chinese firms as well as state-owned enterprises with direct and indirect links to the People’s Liberation Army. [The Diplomat] [The National Law Review]

According to analysts, the move will accelerate the decoupling of the world’s two largest economies as China is expected to respond with efforts to ‘de-Americanize’ its supply chains . [South China Morning Post] [Technode]

Meanwhile, US President Trump has declared that the hard-fought trade deal was currently only of secondary importance compared the coronavirus pandemic and is considering measures to retaliate against China for its handling of Covid-19. According to sources familiar with the matter, measures under consideration include sanctions, new non-tariff trade restrictions, and a possible push for lifting China’s sovereign immunity which would pave the way for the US government and American citizens to file lawsuits seeking damages from China in US courts. [Channel News Asia]

In a latest development, reflecting an attempt to reduce supply chain reliance on China and to spur domestic manufacturing, President Trump is set to sign an executive order under which federal agencies are required to buy only American-made medical products. The order, according to Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro, will help spur lagging medical manufacturing in the US. [Reuters]

For further ideas on reducing the reliance of US supply chains in China current discussed in the Trump administration see [Aljazeera].

 

 

5 May 2020

China: New cybersecurity rules 

(dql) In a move to strengthen control of the cyber space, China last week released new cybersecurity rules which will come into force on June 1 and under which companies classified as “operators of critical information infrastructure” are required to perform cybersecurity evaluations for vulnerabilities that could affect national security when buying networking products and services, including – among others – server equipment, mass storage devices, cloud computing services, and large-scale databases. In case risks are detected, operators are required to submit a cybersecurity review application to the government. [Technode] [Cyber Administration of China, for the rules in Chinese]

 

5 May 2020

China: Journalist jailed for party-critical reporting

(dql) In move widely seen as an attempt to intimidate independent and critical reporting in China, a Chinese journalist was sentenced to 15 years in jail after a court found him guilty of “extortion, illegal business operations and bribery” as well as of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a catch-all for criticism of the party or the government. 

The journalist, a former employee of Chinese state-run media outlets, has published online commentaries and investigative reports on social media since 2015. [South China Morning Post] [Daily Mail]

The heavy sentence of 15 years imprisonment reflects the party’s iron fist with which it exerts control over the press and media within the country. It also sends a powerful message to the international community as the conviction came just two days ahead of the World Press Freedom Day past Sunday and shortly after the release of the 2020 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders in which China is ranked 177 out of 180 countries. [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3

5 May 2020

China/Hong Kong: Protests resumed

(dql) The past week saw a number of small groups of protesters gathering at different places in Hongkong to express their protest against the government. While small in numbers, the gatherings signal a resurgence of the anti-government protest movement which has come to a halt since the outbreak of the coronavirus. [The Diplomat] [South China Morning Post]

The resumption of protests is a response to signals for a more assertive position of the city government and Beijing towards democratic developments in Hong Kong in the past weeks, including the arrest of more than a dozen high-profile pro-democracy figures over charges of partaking in un-authorized anti-government protests last year. [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3

 

28 April 2020

Cybersecurity firm: Vietnamese hackers have targeted Chinese government 

(jn) According to the cybersecurity firm FireEye a Vietnamese state-backed hacker group launched intrusion campaigns against authorities in Hubei province and the Chinese Ministry of Emergency Management in order to collect intelligence on the COVID-19 crisis. 

The attacks were carried out at least between January and April of this year by sending spear phishing messages and malicious attachments to personal and professional email accounts. The success of the operation is not clear as the Vietnamese government denies standing behind any such campaign and Chinese officials did not respond to press inquiries. [FireEye]

According to a senior cybersecurity expert with FireEye, the activities are an example of countries treating the virus as an intelligence priority, especially those bordering China, thus “throwing everything they’ve got at it” [South China Morning Post]. Another expert from the University of New South Wales attributes the readiness to carry out cyber-attacks against China to Vietnam’s own experience with cyber intrusions from Chinese actors in connection with the explosive territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Consequently, the country has stepped up its cyber capabilities (also for domestic use to quell the opposition) and made China its “largest intelligence collection target” [Bloomberg].

 

28 April 2020

India opens another access point to disputed border with China

(ls) India has opened a new bridge in Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast to enable faster movement of troops and artillery. The bridge is located in the region, parts of which are claimed by China and which witnessed a months-long military stand-off in 2017 over the Doklam plateau, claimed by China and Bhutan, India’s ally. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is upgrading its infrastructure along the border, having already completed 74 strategic roads. [South China Morning Post]

28 April 2020

After last week’s restrictions, India now promises to fast-track Chinese investment proposals

(ls) After India introduced stricter governmental vetting procedures for foreign investments from neighboring countries, among which the most important source of investment is China [see Asia in Review, No. 16, April/2020, 3], the government now tries to ease possible negative impacts on pending investment proposals by fast-tracking them. According to government sources, New Delhi will thus try to approve any investment proposal in a non-sensitive sector within 15 days when the stake being bought is not significant. While the fast-track mechanism would be open to all India’s neighbors with a land border, China would be the main beneficiary. It has major existing and planned investments in India. The development exemplifies the dependence of parts of the Indian economy on Chinese investment, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis. [Reuters]

28 April 2020

China angered over Australia’s push for WHO investigation into disease outbreak

(dql) China-Australia relations have reach a new low after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison requested allies to support his call for a reform of the World Health Organization (WHO). Among others, Morrison suggested removing the right of individual members to veto proposed health strategies, creating an independent review organization tasked with examining the performance of the WHO in a global health calamity, and giving the WHO the power to send investigators into a country to determine the factors behind a disease outbreak. [The Guardian]

The proposal comes at the WHO is facing accusations that it has been China-centric in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In response, China lashed out at Australia condemning the politicization of the pandemic and accusing Canberra of “politically motivated suspicion and accusation.” [New Daily]

For a critical on Australia’s move see John McCarthy at [East Asia Forum] who calls it a policy mistake as “there is an unspoken assumption abroad that it [Australia] did so to please Washington.”

Meanwhile, China announced that the it will give the World Health Organization an additional 30 million USD following its donation 20 million USD in cash to WHO in March 11 to help combat the global coronavirus outbreak. Beijing’s pledge comes after President Donald Trump earlier this month announced to put WHO funding from the USA on hold, citing that his administration is investigating the actions taken by the agency early on in the pandemic. [CNN]

28 April 2020

China-USA relations: Re-opening of US consulate in Greenland, operations of Chinese telecom companies in the USA and WHO funding

(dql) In an apparent move to counter China and Russia in the Arctic region, Washington last week announced to re-open a consulate in Greenland and give 12 million USD in development aid to the Arctic island. [The Washington Post]

Greenland has become a geopolitical battleground as climate change is opening new sea lanes and creating commercial and military activity considered impossible until recently. In addition, with the ice retreating, opportunities to tap natural resources could arise, too. In a surprisingly frank way, US Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands confirmed these stakes saying in an opinion column in a Danish media outlet that the aim on Washington’s consulate/development aid package was to combat Moscow’s “aggressive behaviour and increased militarisation in the Arctic” as well as Beijing’s “predatory economic interests” in the region. [Stuff]

In another move further deepening tensions in Sino-US relations, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has sent show cause orders of three state-controlled Chinese telecommunications companies with units in the USA to demand them that they provide explanations why the agency should not launch the process of revoking authorizations enabling their U.S. operations. The FCC cited concerns over the security of US American networks as reason for the move. [Reuters]

28 April 2020

China: Arrests over publication of censored Covid-19 articles

(dql) Three Chinese activists are kept in police custody at an unknown location for their alleged support in publishing censored Covid-19 articles online. The arrested are contributors to a crowd-sourced project named Terminus2049 that since 2018 has been collecting articles that had been removed from mainstream media outlets and social media. [South China Morning Post 1]

In another move, also fueling concerns over censorship in the context of Covid-19 in China, Hubei University has announced that it has put one of its professors under investigation after she had expressed support for an award-winning novelist whose recently published diary documents life under lockdown in Wuhan and criticizes the city government’s response to the virus outbreak. [South China Morning Post 2] [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3, for the nationalist backlash the diary caused]

Meanwhile, Wuhan, the city in which the disease was first detected and an almost three months long strict lockdown was imposed in January, has been declared free of Covid-19 after last patients were discharged from hospital past Sunday. Wuhan, China’s hardest hit city, had reported a total of 50.333 confirmed cases and 3.869 deaths, with a recovery rate at 92%. Nationwide, 82.836 cases and 4.633 deaths have been recorded. [First Post] [Worldometers]

28 April 2020

China: First overseas national to be prosecuted for Hong Kong interference

(dql) Earlier AiR reported on recent signs of a hardening stance of Beijing towards democratic forces in Hong Kong. [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3] In a related move reflecting an attempt to intimidate foreign meddling, China last week announced to prosecute the first foreign national in the context of the Hong Kong protests. A Belizean citizen and business man, arrested in November, will be charged with interfering in Hong Kong affairs and activities posing a danger to China’s national security, including funding US-based anti-China groups.  [Reuters]

21 April 2020

“Milk tea alliance” unites young Thai, HK and Taiwanese internet users against China

(ls) In unprecedented show of “online solidarity”, mostly young internet users from Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan have jointly rebutted what most observers considered concerted Chinese troll attacks on a Thai celebrity who had mistakenly referred to Taiwan as a country. The Diplomat recounts the events that led to the creation of the self-styled “milk tea alliance”, describing the internet’s unifying potential as opposed to bots, misinformation and media manipulation. [The Diplomat]

“This is the first transnational geopolitical Twitter war Thais have engaged in,” Prajak Kongkirati of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science said. Meanwhile, also users in the Philippines took on the respective hashtag to attack Chinese action in the disputed South China Sea. Twitter is blocked in China and only accessible for those using virtual private networks or with official approval. [Reuters]

21 April 2020

South China Sea: Paracel and Spratly islands become Chinese administrative districts

(ls) At a time when accusations that China is exploiting diverted attention during the Covid-19 pandemic to assert its presence in the South China Sea have become prevalent [Asia in Review, No. 14, April/2020, 1], China has announced that it has established an administrative district on the Paracel islands and another on the Spratly islands, the two districts being under the control of China’s Sansha city. In response, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said that the move “seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty”. The development shows how the island groups are becoming legally embedded within Chinese administrative structure while there may be little that other claimants can do about that. [Reuters 1]

Meanwhile, a Chinese government survey ship, the Haiyang Dizhi 8, has moved south into waters 352 kilometres (218 miles) off the coasts of Brunei and Malaysia, north of Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and near waters claimed by both Vietnam and Malaysia. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the ship was conducting normal activities. [Reuters 2]

For further insights into a possible overreach in China’s expansionist policy in the South China Sea see Richard Javad Heydarian at [Asia Times]. 

21 April 2020

China-Russia military alliance on horizon?

(dql) Against the background of a looming failure to extend the US-Russian New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) of 2010 which terminates in February 2021 because Washington insists on including China in the treaty extension, a military alliance between Russia and China appears as a possibility on the horizon, writes Dimitri Simes at [Nikkei Asian Review] who argues that the announced deployment of US missiles in East Asia “would prompt Russia and China to abandon longstanding reservations about a formal military alliance.” 

Latest statements of US Sectretary of State Pompeo seem to confirm Simes’ concern about a failure to extend the New START. In a phone talk with his Russian counterpart Lavrov, Pompeo on last Friday insisted that any future arms control talks must focus on an American proposal for a new arms control accord that includes Russia and China.

With its arsenal of an estimated 300 nuclear weapons being far smaller than those of Russia and the United States, China has persistently rejected such talks. [Reuters]

For a comparison between US and European efforts on nuclear modernisation to enhance deterrence capacity against China and Russia see [defence.nridigital].

21 April 2020

China-Russia show united front against US attacks on China over pandemic 

(dql) Demonstrating a united front against attacks on China over the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese President Xi and his Russian counterpart Putin in a joint statement rejected attempts to blame Beijing for delaying informing the world about the coronavirus, with Putin praising “consistent and effective actions” of Beijing “which allowed the epidemiological situation in the country to stabilise.” [Moscow Times]

The statement comes as US President Trump reiterates attacks on China over the pandemic, questioning China’s transparency over the coronavirus outbreak, doubting Chinese number of cases and deaths and confirming an investigation whether the virus escaped a laboratory in Wuhan in which it had been created. Adding to this, Secretary of State Pompeo called on China to grant the United States access to the Wuhan laboratory “so that we can determine precisely where this virus began.” [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post]

In a latest development, Germany has also urged Beijing to be more transparent about the origin of the virus. The move follows similar steps taken by France and the UK. However, Berlin and Paris have distanced themselves from Washington’s claims on virus/lab-link. [Channel News Asia]

 

21 April 2020

USA needs to boost its navy to counter China in the Asia-Pacific

(dql) Earlier AiR reported on the US Indo-Pacific Command’s request for more than 20 billion USD in additional spending between 2021 and 2026 to strengthen deterrence against China after the coronavirus pandemic ebbs. [AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1

Ted Gover at [Straits Times] confirms the need for the abovementioned additional spending, but demands even more money in order to “rearm America in key areas where the US is currently deficient in deterring a rising China,” eyeing in particular the US navy which need to have enough money to “increase shipbuilding of sufficient numbers and quality to continue to allow for the US to operate beyond the second island chain in the Pacific and to address regional coercion by China.”

 

21 April 2020

India: Government amends Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy, including China in tougher investment scrutiny 

(jk) The Government of India has reviewed its current Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy regarding takeovers and acquisitions of Indian companies by foreign investors. Now, all neighbouring countries need approval from India’s government for investments, a policy previously only applied to Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

The regulations are particularly relevant for China which has already invested heavily in India. Earlier this year for instance, the People’s Bank of China has raised its stake in India’s largest non-banking mortgage provider HDFC despite “sliding shares” – a warning sign for many observers regarding Chinese influence in India. [India Today]

China is seen by many to be looking to increase their investments and take-overs amid the Covid-19 crisis when many businesses are desperate, struggle and are open to cheap take-overs and investments. The revised FDI regulations are supposed to mitigate this.  [Tech Crunch

 

21 April 2020

China: Nationalist sentiments over Covid-19

(dql) Reflecting rising nationalism in China in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, an award-winning Chinese writer is facing attacks from compatriots on social media over her diary about the Wuhan lockdown, criticizing her for providing ammunition for Western critics of Beijing’s handling of the health crisis and calling her traitor. The book, titled ‘The Wuhan Diary’, will be published in English and German, too. [South China Morning Post]

For insights into rising nationalism and xenophobia China in the wake of a claimed defeat of the coronavirus and its impact on the every-day life of foreigners see [Today Online], [RTE].

 

21 April 2020

China/Hong Kong: Leading pro-democracy figures arrested

(dql) In a move signaling rising political heat in Kong Hong, the city’s police last Saturday arrested more than a dozen high-profile pro-democracy figures over charges of partaking in un-authorized anti-government protests last year. Among the arrested were political heavyweight Martin Lee, founder of United Democrats of Hong Kong and its successor, the Democratic Party, Hong Kong’s flagship pro-democracy party, and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, owner of the Apple Daily, the biggest pro-democracy media organization in the city. [Radio Free Asia]

While the police insisted that the arrests were made based on evidence and in strict accordance to laws, the move was met with strong objections on the side of the anti-government camp which claims that the arrests reflect attempts of the government to introduce a reign of terror to silence political dissent ahead of the Legislative Council election in September. [South China Morning] [Hong Kong Free Press]

The arrests triggered also condemnation from the USA and UK with US Secretary of State Pompeo calling them “inconsistent with commitments made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that include transparency, the rule of law,” while the British Foreign Office demanded that authorities in Hong Kong refrain from “actions that inflame tensions” and “focus on rebuilding trust through a process of meaningful political dialogue.” [The Guardian]

China was quick to hit back criticizing in strong words US officials for interfering in Chinese internal affairs and for “condoning evil and making a travesty of the rule of law by ignoring the facts, distorting the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and trying to exonerate anti-China troublemakers in Hong Kong on the pretext of ‘transparency’, ‘the rule of law’ and ‘a high degree of autonomy’.” [Xinhua]

The arrests come amid recent signals of a hardening stance of the city government and Beijing towards pro-democratic forces, including the ruling of the Appeal Court that the government’s ban on face masks for unlawful assemblies was constitutional [AiR No. 15, April/2020, 2] and the call of the Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong for a swift enactment of a national security law, shelved since 2003, to combat what he sees as violence, foreign interference and pro-independence forces. [The Guardian]

Furthermore, both the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong issued statements rejecting claims that they are subject to restrictions of Hong Kong’s Basic Law that bar the Chinese government from interfering in the city’s internal affairs and insisting that both agencies are but “authorized by the central authorities to handle Hong Kong affairs,” and to be involved in and exercise supervisory power over issues pertaining to  the “correct implementation of the Basic Law, the orderly operation of the political system and overall interests of society.” [Liaison Office Hong Kong, in Chinese] 

 

14 April 2020

Bangladesh: Shanghai Electric’s power plant begins operations 

(hg) Shanghai Electric has successfully converted and enhanced an existing power plant in the city of Sylhet. The facility is supposed to fulfill the electricity demands in Bangladesh’s eastern region without interruption and represents the fifth project of the Chinese company in Bangladesh since 2002.  [Power Technology]

 

14 April 2020

Philippine Government expresses “deep concern” after China-Vietnam incident in South China Sea

(jk) After a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel rammed and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracel Islands [Asia in Review No. 14, April/2020, 1], the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs released a statement indicating it is increasingly worried about Chinese actions in the South China Sea and that “trust in a friendship is lost” after such incidents. It cites “momentum” in talks on a Code of Conduct, as well as the current Covid-19 pandemic, which requires coordinated responses and mutual trust. [Department of Foreign Affairs]

While Chinese activity may not have increased since the onset of the corona crisis, its continuation despite an obvious need for cooperation and trust in extraordinary circumstances has not gone unnoticed in ASEAN. The US The Department of Defense also released a statement on the incident, echoing this point: “The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of the rules-based international order, as it sets the conditions that enable us to address this shared threat in a way that is transparent, focused, and effective. We call on all parties to refrain from actions that would destabilize the region, distract from the global response to the pandemic, or risk needlessly contributing to loss of life and property”. [US Department of Defense]

 

14 April 2020

Africa between China and the USA over Covid-19 

(dql) The Africa Union (AU) has rejected US President Trump’s criticism towards the World Health Organization (WHO), who accused the body and its Ethiopian director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of being too China-centric in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and threatened to suspend future funding. With 893 million USD during the current two-year funding period of the WHO, the United States is the largest single donor to the WHO. [Wall Street Journal] [WHO, for a list of donors and their contributions]

The AU, however, applauded the WHO for its “good work” in dealing with the pandemic and its director general for his “exceptional leadership”, who has come under pressure his defense of China’s pandemic handling. [South China Morning Post] [Reuters]

In a related development, the WHO rejected accusations from Washington that it had ignored Taiwan’s warning of human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus soon after its outbreak in China late last year and by doing so helped China conceal the gravity of the pandemic. [Hong Kong Free Press]

Meanwhile, African officials and African countries’ ambassadors in China have denounced racial discrimination against Africans in China after Africans are reportedly being banned from places such as hospitals and shopping malls, forced out of their homes and hotel rooms, and face violence in the streets following positive Covid-19 test results of five Nigerians in Guangzhou. [South China Morning Post 2][Forbes]

 

14 April 2020

China-USA relations: Commissioned mercenaries to fight Chinese economy at sea?

(dql) Pointing to the fact that the USA has not signed or ratified any international treaties or conventions banning the use of privateers, US military researchers have suggested the use of privateers to fight the Chinese grey-zone merchant fleet at sea. The researchers argue that “[p]rivateering, authorized by letters of marque, could offer a low-cost tool to enhance deterrence in peacetime and gain an advantage in wartime,” and adding that “[i]n wartime, privateers could swarm the oceans and destroy the maritime industry on which China’s economy – and the stability of its regime – depend. The mere threat of such a campaign might strengthen deterrence and thereby prevent a war from happening at all.” [U.S. Naval Institute] [South China Morning Post]

David Axe at [National Interest] gives a critical take on this ‘privateers’ suggestion arguing that it misses to see that China in such a scenario might retaliate with its own commissioned seafarers to equally damage US trade.

For an account on the current capabilities of the Chinese naval force see Roderick Lee at [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief] who suggests that the People’s Liberation Army Navy “is close to being able to execute offensive naval operations outside of the first island chain (and perhaps beyond the second island chain) in a wartime environment.” 

With regards to the “looming threat from China in space”, see Douglas Mackinnon at [The Hill] who cites the US Defense Intelligence Agency to say “that China has a massive upper hand in the militarization of space.” 

 

 

14 April 2020

China: Critic of government’s Covid-19 handling under investigation

(dql) Earlier, AiR has reported about the disappearance of Ren Zhiqiang, a critic of the Chinese government’s response to the outbreak of the coronavirus, who accused the Communist Party of having “concealed the cause of the outbreak” and using “propaganda to hush a scandal”. [AiR No. 11, March/2020, 3]

Last week, Chinese authorities announced that he has been put under investigation for “serious violations of discipline and law.” [South China Morning Post]

 

14 April 2020

China: Two thousand years old house registration system set to be dismantled?

(dql) As laid out in a recent policy framework paper of the Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council, one of the major reform steps to further liberalize China’s land, labor and capital markets, will be to permit domestic migrants to register for residency in all cities in China – except a few major metropolitan areas –, along with the offer of equal access to public services, from education to health care. This reform, if implemented, would be the dismantling of China’s two millennia-old house registration system, which has long been criticized for depriving domestic migrants of access to public services.  [South China Morning Post] [Gov.cn, for the policy framework paper in Chinese]

The release of the policy blueprint comes at a time when Beijing’s commitment to market-oriented reforms is facing skepticism at home and abroad, while the country hurtles towards its first economic contraction since 1976 due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

 

14 April 2020

China: Beijing angered by filibuster of Hong Kong opposition lawmakers

(dql) Beijing has expressed dissatisfaction with opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong, criticizing them for paralyzing the work of the Legislative Council (LegCo) by delaying through filibuster the naming of the head of the House Committee. The latter is in charge of scrutinizing bills and subsidiary legislation tabled for approval in the Council. Since the start of the new legislative year last October and after 14 meetings, the filibuster has affected at least 14 bills and 80 subsidiary legislation. 

Opposition lawmakers dismissed Beijing’s criticism arguing that Legco’s operations are the city’s internal affairs and not to be subsumed under “national defence” or “diplomacy” identified as Beijing’s jurisdictions under the city’s Basic Law. [The Standard] [South China Morning Post]

14 April 2020

China/Hong Kong: Masks at unlawful assemblies unconstitutional 

(dql) In an attempt to walk a fine line between government and protesters, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal last week ruled that the invocation of the city’s emergency law to enact a ban on wearing masks at unlawful assemblies is constitutional. However, the judgment also confirmed that for lawful public gatherings both the ban on facial coverings and the power granted to police officers to remove masks, were still unconstitutional. [Reuters]

The ruling refers to the anti-mask law enacted by the Chief Executive Lam in October last year at the height of the anti-government protests. The law was ruled unconstitutional by the lower court in November. The city government appealed against this judgment. [AiR No. 41, October/2019, 2] [AiR No. 47, November/2019, 3]

In response to the present ruling, the pro-democracy camp announced to challenge it before the Court of Final Appeal, the city’s top court. Members of the city’s cabinet argue that it was too early to abolish the law. [South China Morning Post]

7 April 2020

Indian Senior Advocate launches UNHRC complaint blaming China for Covid-19 ‘conspiracy’

(jk) A [complaint] to the United Nations Human Rights Council seeking compensation from China for “surreptitiously developing a biological weapon capable of mass destruction”, has been filed on behalf of the London-based International Council of Jurists [ICJ] and the All India Bar Association. The complaint was written by and Indian advocate who is the Bar Association’s chairman and ICJ President. He is also former vice-chairman of the Bar Council of India, the Supreme Court Bar Association, as well as the chairman of the Bar Council of Delhi. In the allegation, he states China “aimed at catapulting itself to the position of a superpower of the world and undermining other countries through biological warfare”. [The Print]

 

7 April 2020

Increased Chinese activity in the South China Sea?

(ls) In a new incident in the South China Sea, a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel appears to have rammed and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracel Islands, according to an official protest that Vietnam lodged with China. The Chinese coast guard said the Vietnamese boat illegally entered the area to fish and refused to leave. Last year, a Chinese oil survey vessel conducted operations in Vietnamese-controlled waters for more than three, causing a tense standoff between vessels from the two countries. [Reuters]

Tensions over fishing territories have also pitted China and Indonesia against each other over recent months. Nonetheless, Indonesian have so far tried to avoid any open conflict with Beijing. [Straits Times]

The Diplomat reports a U.S. State Department statement on the incident noting that the sinking of the Vietnamese vessel is just the latest in a series of moves China has been undertaking in this respect since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with others including new “research stations” on military bases built on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef, landing of special military aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef, and continued deploying of maritime militia. [The Diplomat]

7 April 2020

China-Brazil relations strained over social media post on Chinese coronavirus supplies

(dql) China and Brazil are engaged in a diplomatic spat triggered by a social media post by Brazil’s Education Minister Abraham Weintraub in which he accuses Chinese medical equipment makers of profiteering from the pandemic and insinuates that the pandemic would help China to “dominate the world”. Adding to the confrontation, the text in the post is pronounced in a way to ridicule the Chinese accent. 

Beijing denounced the post as “completely absurd and despicable” and of “racist character.” 

Weintraub is known for favoring closer alignment with the United States and cautioning towards China, Brazil’s largest trading partner. [Reuters] [Aljazeera]

7 April 2020

China-USA military relations: US Indo-Pacific Command requests over 20 billion USD additional spending

(dql) Signaling efforts to shore up the country’s post-Covid-19 standing in Asia-Pacific, the US Indo-Pacific Command has submitted to Congress a spending request to strengthen deterrence against China after the coronavirus pandemic ebbs, calling for more than 20 billion USD in additional spending between 2021 and 2026 for new radar warning systems and cruise missiles, as well as for more drills with allies, deployments of additional forces and new intelligence-sharing centers. [New York Times] [Breaking Defense]

7 April 2020

China angered by Taiwan’s mask diplomacy and US support for Taiwan

(dql) In response to Taiwan’s pledge to donate as many as 10 million surgical face masks to the USA and 11 European countries as well as 15 diplomatic allies [Focus Taiwan], Beijing warned Taipei to stay away from “political tricks” to buy support for accession to the World Health Organization from which Taiwan is excluded as China has been blocking any accession attempts. Beijing further warned that the “US and Taiwan should be reminded that if there is anyone trying to use this pandemic to play political games and hurt China’s core interests, they should be very careful.”  [South China Morning Post]

China’s warnings come amid efforts taken by the US administration and lawmakers in the USA to push for support for Taiwan’s standing in international organizations in the wake of Taipei’s widely recognized response to the pandemic such as the World Health Organization or the International Civil Aviation Organization. [The Diplomat] [East Asia Forum 1].

In an earlier move, President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act of 2019 into law which provides the US Secretary of State with the power to expand, reduce, or terminate U.S. aid to countries depending on whether they improve, worsen, or sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan and also calls for increased American support for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations either as a member or observer. [AiR No. 13, March/2020, 5]

For an assessment of China-USA relations in the light of Covid-19 see Ryan Hass and Kevin Dong in [East Asia Forum 2] who argue that there will be more, not less, tensions between China and the USA over the pandemic while suggesting that the USA would fare better if they would “prioritise the development of an Asia strategy for dealing with China, rather than concentrating on bilateral confrontation with Beijing” as reflected by the US narrative of “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” on the causes of the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs under Bill Clinton and one of the grand and most influential scholars in international relations and US foreign policy, criticizes both Beijing and Washington for “short-term, zero-sum approaches” to their  respective pandemic response which pays to “too little attention to international institutions and cooperation” and calls on both sides to “plan for future waves of the coronavirus and establish bilateral and multilateral frameworks to enhance collaboration.” [Project Syndicate]

7 April 2020

Pakistan: prioritizing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects

(jk) Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered a relief package last week that specifically focuses on the construction industry and directed resumption of all China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) related infrastructure projects.

He stated that the coronavirus crisis will not impede CPEC and expressed “profound regards to China for medical relief assistance to help Pakistan fight against COVID-19.” [CPEC Info]

7 April 2020

China: World’s no 1 in international patents application

(dql) With 58,990 applications China was the biggest source of applications for international patents in the world in 2019, taking to top spot away from the United States (57,840) which has held it since the Patent Cooperation Treaty system was established in 1978. China’s figure has increased 200-fold in just only years. [Reuters]

7 April 2020

China: Prominent human rights lawyer released

(dql) Wang Quanzhang, a leading Chinese human rights lawyer known for defending political activists and victims of land seizures, was released from prison after spending almost five years behind bars. Wang was detained in 2015 during a crackdown on over 300 lawyers and government critics in China and sentenced in January 2019 to four-and-a-half years in jail after he had been found guilty of subverting state power. [Deutsche Welle]

The fact that Wang, instead of reuniting with his family after release, was transferred to a residence far from his family in order to undergo two weeks of quarantine has raised concerns about him being put under house arrest. [BBC] [South China Morning Post]

 

7 April 2020

China: Xinjiang’s new rules on domestic violence includes extremist behavior

(dql) The Standing Committee of the Xinjiang People’s Congress last week passed new anti-domestic violence rules for the region under which domestic violence includes – among other offenses – also the “exercise of extremist behavior that both bodily and mentally prevent members of a family from engaging in normal production and way of life”.

While officially being part of the implementation of national legislation on combating domestic violence passed in 2015, the rules, effective from 1 June, are seen among critical observers as a move to further deepen already pervasive state control and surveillance of the Uighur Muslim minority within the frame of the government’s announced fight against extremism and separatism in Xinjiang for which Beijing has come under international pressure over reportedly more than 1 million Uighur Muslims detained in internment camps. [South China Morning Post] [XJBS, for the rules in Chinese]

 

 

7 April 2020

China/Hong Kong: Opposition eyes majority in Legislative Council election

(dql) Hong Kong’s opposition camp, spurred by the landslide victory in the district council elections last November when it had won 17 out of 18 district councils, announced it aims to secure for the first time since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 the majority of the 70 seats in the city’s legislative election in September this year in order to force the government into delivering democratic reforms. The opposition currently holds 29 seats. [South China Morning Post]

The announcement came shortly after past Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which has come under immense pressure as universal suffrage and democratic reform in the city remain core demands of the – currently silent – anti-government protest.

For a critical account on prospects of the Basic Law remaining the centerpiece of governance in Hong Kong see Pui-yin Lo at [Verfassungsblog] who argues that all depends on the willingness and courage of Hong Kong courts and judges to enforce legal means provided by the Basic Law itself to uphold the Basic Law and its rights, principles and values against Beijing’s encroachment.

 

 

31 March 2020

China-Laos railway communication signal project commenced

(jk) Last week, the communication signal project of the China-Laos railway has begun by building a communication tower on the outskirts of Vientiane. The project aims to form the  heart of the “entire railway’s train operation command and control system”.

According to Chinese media, “the China-Laos Railway is a strategic docking project between the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and Laos’ strategy to convert from a landlocked country to a land-linked hub. The electrified passenger and cargo railway is built with the full application of Chinese management and technical standards.” [Xinuha]

 

 

31 March 2020

Mekong River Joint Patrol started 

(jk) The Mekong River joint patrol by China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand began last week. The four countries will engage in “joint visits, inspections and an anti-drug publicity campaign during the four-day patrol” and will include a focus on the Golden Triangle notorious for illegal drug activity. [Navy Recognition]

 

31 March 2020

Is the corona crisis bringing Nepal closer to China?

(ls) As China claims to have brought the coronavirus outbreak under control, it has now reached out to Nepal, India, and 10 other Eurasian and South Asian countries to help out these nations in their respective fight against the virus. As for Nepal, these efforts may bring the country in closer cooperation with its big neighbor. The development highlights Nepal’s difficult choice between China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy. [The Diplomat]

 

31 March 2020

China: Rising arms sales in Latin America and Africa

(dql) Over the past 20 years China has developed into a major arms provider, second only to the USA. Nirnajan Rose at [Modern Diplomacy] provides current numbers of Chinese arms exports along with a take on Beijing’s military activities in Latin America and Africa. 

 

31 March 2020

China-India relations: Mutual distrust runs deep

(dql) 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of China-India relations. Yun Sun at [War on the Rock] provides a historical account of Sino-Indian ties and concludes that mutual distrust between Beijing and New Delhi runs deep suggesting that with both countries pursuing incompatible interests on a number of key issues amid great-power rivalry and domestic populism, the chance of reconciling those differences is not foreseeable in the near future.

 

31 March 2020

China-EU relations: Brussels warns against Beijing’s Trojan horse of medical Covid-19 supplies

(dql) The European Union’s High Representative Josep Borrell has warned of China’s “politics of generosity”, urging EU countries to stand ready for a “struggle for influence” in a “global battle of narratives”. Borell’s remarks refer to China’s ‘mask diplomacy’ and come amid increasing unease in the EU over what is seen as Beijing’s targeted strategy to help certain European countries – among them hard-hit Italy and Spain – with medical supplies and support to fight Covid-19. [Asia Times] [Fox News]

For an assessment of China’s ‘mask diplomacy’ see Brian Wong at [The Diplomat] who suggests to understand it as “a rather successful emulation and adaptation of long-standing diplomatic best practices, which – coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak – have lent the battered regime a seeming chance at global redemption.”

31 March 2020

China and USA agree to cooperate in fighting pandemic at G20 Extraordinary Meeting 

(dql) At last week’s G20 Extraordinary Meeting on the coronavirus crisis, conducted via video conference, leaders of the G20 countries vowed to inject 5 trillion USD in fiscal spending into the global economy to lessen the economic impact of the coronavirus, adding that the group would “do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic”. In a rare moment of unity, the leaders expressed their commitment to implementing and funding all necessary health measures necessary to halt the spread of virus. [G20.org] [Aljazeera]

For critical account on the outcomes of the meeting see the opinion peace at [East Asia Forum] calling the meeting “big on rhetoric, but short on substance” and the amount of 5 trillion USD “woefully inadequate”. 

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump announced that both countries will cooperate to contain the Covid-19 pandemic after a phone conversation between the leaders following the pledge of the G20. [South China Morning Post]

The announcement comes as surprise given the war of words and mutual accusations between Beijing and Washington over the origin of the coronavirus in the recent weeks [AiR No. 12, March/2020, 4] and as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s referred to the virus as “Wuhan Virus” in a speech during G7 video conference last week in which he demanded that China provides full transparency in the context of the coronavirus while he also expressed US willingness to work with every country around the world, including China in order “to keep as many people alive, as many people as healthy, and then to restore our economies that have been decimated by the Wuhan virus.” [Reuters]

31 March 2020

China: Economic restart amid Covid-19

(dql) After the nation-wide lockdown declared in January amid mounting numbers of coronavirus infections, the Chinese government since March has been taking measures to push for a restart of its economy, including spending billions of dollars on medical supplies and treatment, investing in infrastructure projects for job creation, reducing taxes on small businesses and instructing banks to defer loan payments for troubled households or companies. Laura He at [CNN] analyses the risks involved in the economic restart at a time when Covid-19 cases are still reported, but also looks into the question in how far China’s economic restart might provide insights or even a partial blueprint for countries that are still in crisis mode. 

For numbers of businesses reopening in China see [Wired], [Marketplace].

31 March 2020

China bars foreign visitors

(dql) China last week announced a temporary ban on all foreign visitors, including those who have visas or residence permits. The decision, which also includes a limitation of Chinese and foreign airlines to one flight per week, is a response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus across the world and latest developments of virus transmission in China. Among 55 new cases across China recorded last Thursday, 54 of them were ‘imported’ from overseas. [South China Morning Post] [BBC]

24 March 2020

China, Japan and South Korea ready to cooperate on Covid-19 

(ef) Last week, the Foreign Ministers of China, Japan and South Korea discussed cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic with a focus laid on the question of infected people arriving in their countries from overseas. [Reuters]

24 March 2020

Upgrade for Chinese warplane coatings

(dql) Chinese military aircraft are set to be painted with “low observable” coatings and standardized markings under new guidelines to increase protection against detection. For analysts this move aims to assist Chinese warplanes with operations near Taiwan and in the East and South China seas. [South China Morning Post]

24 March 2020

China expels US journalists

(dql) Amid already strained Sino-US relations over mutual accusations in the context of the coronavirus, China last week announced to expel journalists from three US media outlets including New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. The decision, effective immediately, will require US nationals working for these media outlets to return their press accreditation within 10 days, if their credentials expire before the end of 2020. [CNN]

The move is widely seen as retaliation against earlier moves of the Trump administration to impose restrictions on the work of Chinese state-run media outlets in the US. [AiR No. 9, March/2020, 1] [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4]

24 March 2020

China-USA relations: War of words over coronavirus origin continues

(dql) Beijing and Washington continue to engage in a competition over the control of the narrative on the coronavirus origin. 

Following claims of the deputy spokesman of China’s Foreign Ministry according to which the virus might have been brought to China by US soldiers during their participation in the 2019 Military Games, held in October in Wuhan [No. 11, March/2020, 3], US President Trump dismissed these claims by saying: “China tried to say at one point … that it was caused by American soldiers. That can’t happen. It’s not going to happen, not as long as I am president. It comes from China.” At the same time, he blamed China for delayed communication with the US. He also continued to use the ‘Chinese virus’ to refer to the virus defying criticism that the term would spur racism. Rejecting this accusation, he insisted that the term was used by him to identify the place of origin. [CNBC 1

Beijing hit back and accused Washington of defaming the Chinese government, shifting responsibility and finding a scapegoat, and denounced claims that the virus originated in Wuhan as “immoral and irresponsible.” [CNN]

In a latest development of the narrative spat, a remark of a leading Italian medical expert about people remembering a ‘strange pneumonia” in northern Italy back in December and November is circulating in Chinese media and taken as another ‘proof’ that the coronavirus did not originated in China and that opposing claims from the USA are part of the politicization of a scientific problem aimed to attack China. [Peking GazetteSina, in Chinese]

In the same way, the opaque ‘Event 201’ in New York on October 18, 2019, a multi-facetted rehearsal for a global pandemic caused by a deadly virus, sponsored by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Economic Forum (WEF), the CIA, Bloomberg, John Hopkins Foundation and the UN, fuels the narrative in China on the USA as origin of the coronavirus. [Asia Times]

In this situation, Chinese President Xi Jinping has reached out to Europe to call for a united front to combat the coronavirus. In phone calls with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron and other leaders of Germany, Spain and Serbia, Xi urged to exchange more information, scientific research, and experience in combating the disease. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, concerns in the USA are rising that Covid-19-caused disruption of supply chains will negatively impact US drug supplies given that Indian pharmaceutical companies supply 40-50% of all U.S. generic drugs while India itself imports nearly 70% of its active pharmaceutical ingredients from China. [CNBC 2]

24 March 2020

More religious freedom violations in China amid Covid-19 feared

(dql) The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in its latest report voices concerns of human rights advocates that the Chinese handling of Covid-19 aggravates ongoing infringements on religious freedom. With respect to Xinjiang and the situation of Uighurs and Muslims the report warns that the “combination of limited access to medical resources and large concentrations of elderly detainees could lead to a humanitarian disaster if the virus reaches any of those camps.”  [USCIRF]

For a critical account of latest developments in surveillance measures within the frame of the Chinese fight against Covid-19, including the assignment of “color code” ratings to each individual to express their level of contagion risk, see [CPO Magazine].

24 March 2020

Chinese military’s leading role in fighting Covid-19

(dql) China last week started the first phase of a clinical trial for a Covid-19 vaccine, with 108 residents of Wuhan, aged between 18 and 60, to be tested in different groups and given different dosages until the end of the year. The Academy of Military Medical Sciences (AMMS) of the People’s Liberation Army was involved in the development of the vaccine, together with the Institute for Biotechnology and Tianjin-based CanSino Biologics Inc. [Asia Times]

In the efforts to control the coronavirus China’s military has been playing a crucial role since the highest level of medical emergency was declared in Hubei, the province in which the virus broke out, at the end of January. Since then, China’s Central Military Commission has gradually dispatched over 10,000 personnel into the area while giving the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) more power than local governments to oversee medical supplies, a sign of centralizing power to contain the crisis. [South China Morning Post

Due to the AMMS established in 1951 during the Korean War with its core mission to research nuclear, biological and chemical warfare, the PLA is also home to a high number of experienced epidemiologists and virologists leading China’s efforts to control Covid-19. [Business Insider]

17 March 2020

Cambodia: Golden Dragon exercise with China taking place, despite COVID-19 outbreak

(jk/ps) More than 3000 soldiers were moved to Kampot province, Cambodia for the 4th annual Golden Dragon military exercise [AiR No. 9, March/2020, 1], held from March 15 – 30, despite COVID-19 fears.

Although other big military exercises have been cancelled or scaled back across the globe,  Cambodia and China conduct their military exercise during the virus outbreak. According to a Cambodian General the Chinese conduct health checks and brought health officials along. Furthermore, the Cambodian soldiers are from an area close to Laos where the virus has not been detected yet. The decision to hold the fourth annual Golden Dragon joint military exercise demonstrates support for China over its handling of the pandemic. [Khmer Times]

17 March 2020

Indonesia drops arms deal with Russia and China under pressure from US

(hg) At the same time, the Trump administration successfully pressured Indonesia to drop arms deals with Russian about fighter jets and China about naval vessels respectively. Especially, Indonesia’s decision to not move ahead with the procurement of 11 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets – a major arms deal – reflects Washington’s still existing ability to leverage political and economic power in Southeast Asia. At the other hand, it might, however, also contribute to an already manifest reservation among Indonesian elites regarding the US influence in the region. [South China Morning Post]

 

17 March 2020

China: Arms sales in Southeast Asia 

(dql) Despite being in conflict with a number of Southeast Asian countries over claims in the South China Sea, China has been successful in selling 13% of its arms to this region between 1999-2018. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, which has a neutral stance in the South China Sea Conflict, have purchased weapons from China. [Defense World]

17 March 2020

China-Iran relations: The Not-So-Special “Special Relationship”

(dql) The ongoing hostility between the USA and Iran opens the door for opportunities for deepening Sino-Iranian relations. However, they are also facing inherent limitations argues John Calabrese in [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief]

17 March 2020

Taiwanese jets warning off Chinese air force again 

(hg) Taiwan’s air force has again scrambled to warn off approaching Chinese jets in context of a military exercise. 

The “island encirclement” drills come amid even worsening relations due to the global corona virus threat, with both countries accusing each other of spreading fake news, and Taiwan being embittered by China blocking its access to the World Health Organization repeating experiences of the SARS outbreak 2003. [Straits Times]

17 March 2020

Cyborg soldier race between China and USA

(dql) With China rapidly modernization its military, the country’s progress in developing technology linking soldiers’ brains directly to computers is alarming from the perspective of US military supremacy, writes Stephen Bryen who wonders whether in this race the first cyborg soldier will be an American or a Chinese one and also informs about the role of an leading American nano-technology expert who earlier had received substantial funding for his research and later was arrested for failing to disclose his work for the Chinese. [Asia Times]

17 March 2020

China-USA relations: Mutual accusations over coronavirus origin

(dql) Covid-19 has become a new diplomatic battleground between China and the USA. In a tweet, the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed “that the new coronavirus might have been brought to China by the US military,” demanding that “the USA must be transparent and make data public” with regards to the questions “When did the patient zero occur in the USA?, How many people were infected? What are the names of the hospitals?” [Cincai News, in Chinese]

While US Secretary of State Pompeo rejected the remarks as an attempt to shift the blame to the USA, President Trump referred in a tweet on his administration’s support for affected industries to the virus as “the Chinese virus”, a designation Beijing in return condemned as smears from Washington. [South China Morning Post] [The Guardian]

17 March 2020

China: Critic of government’s Covid-19 handling missing

(dql) According to reports of his friends, Ren Zhiqiang, a critic of the Chinese government’s response to the outbreak of the coronavirus, is missing. His disappearance is widely seen as being related to an essay in which the former real estate tycoon and blogger, who had 37 million followers before his account had been shut down, accuses the Communist Party of having “concealed the cause of the outbreak” and using “propaganda to hush a scandal”. Ren added that, studying a speech given by President Xi Jinping last month, he “saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his new clothes, but a clown who was stripped naked and insisted on continuing being emperor.” [Straits Times] [China Digital Times]

17 March 2020

China: US legislation against forced labor in Xinjiang

(dql) US lawmakers introduced a bill which aims at preventing goods made from forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region from entering the USA by requiring importers to obtain certification from the US government proving that goods were not produced using forced labor by Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. [South China Morning Post] [rubio.senate.gov, for the text of the bill

The move is the latest in a recent string of US legislative efforts to confront China over its human rights record, including the 2019 Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act and the 2019 Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. [AiR No. 50, December/2019, 2] [AiR No. 49, December/2019, 1]

17 March 2020

China: Hong Kong activists urge USA to sanction human rights violations 

(dql) In a move to retain the international community’s attention to the anti-government protest in Hong Kong amid the Cocid-19 pandemic, pro-democracy groups have issued an open letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on the USA to impose sanctions on individuals accused by them of human rights violations in Hong Kong. [Hong Kong Free Press]

The letter refers to the American ‘Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act’ enacted last November. It requires the US State Department to annually conduct a review of Hong Kong’s autonomy, rule of law and special status and calls for sanctions against China and Hong Kong officials the USA considers responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong. [AiR No. 48, November/2019, 4]

The letter came a few days before Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and Umbrella Movement founder Chan Kin-man was released from prison after 11 months having been convicted for his leading role in the protest movement in 2014, which occupied thoroughfares in Hong Kong’s business district for almost three months and brought the city to standstill. Chan vowed to continue to fight for democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong. [Aljazeera]

10 March 2020

South China Sea: Continued tensions between Southeast Asian countries

(ls/ps) Indonesia has detained dozens of crew members from Vietnamese boats it claims have been fishing illegally near the Natuna Islands. The Indonesian government claims the area in the southernmost reaches of the South China Sea as its exclusive economic zone. In January, Indonesia deployed fighter jets and warships in a conflict with Beijing over Chinese vessels entering the area. [Channel News Asia]

In addition, Malaysia, Vietnam and China have for weeks been entangled in a quiet naval standoff. As reported earlier [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020], Malaysia triggered the showdown by exploring for energy resources beyond its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Vietnam then deployed militia vessels to the area, and China responded by launching the China Coast Guard’s (CCG). The developments, which pitted fellow ASEAN countries against each other, leave question marks over ASEAN’s joint approach toward China’s vast territorial claims. [Asia Times]

Meanwhile, Vietnam and the US are looking to further strengthen relations as the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill arrive in Da Nang, Vietnam. It is the second visit of a US warship to Vietnam since American troops left almost 50 years ago. China has repeatedly trespassed the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Vietnam with oil survey ships and fishing boats escorted by its coast guard. Analysts say Vietnam is unable to protect its resources and is therefore seeking international support. [South China Morning Post][US Navy]

10 March 2020

China’s belt and road project in Pakistan risks becoming corridor to nowhere

(jk) Around 7 years after the initiation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), less than a third of projects that were announced have been completed. Problems in Pakistan, including the ongoing struggles in Balochistan, or serious government corruption, are however only one among many headaches for China with regards to its Belt and Road project. The BRI, in many places, is not as successful as leaders in Beijing might have hoped. The slowing down of the PRC’s own economy will not help the situation, least of all in Pakistan – a country that has received 13 – largely US funded- IMF bail-outs since the late 1980s. [Bloomberg]

10 March 2020

Cambodia to sign Free-Trade Agreement with China

(ps) Cambodia and China are planning to sign a Free-Trade Agreement later this year after Prime Minister Hun Sen and President Xi had first negotiations last month in Beijing. Further talks are planned for the middle of the year with both parties being expected to sign the agreement by the end of the year. Trade figures between the two nations have increased steadily from $5.16 billion in 2016 to $7.4 billion in 2018 with the aim of reaching $10 billion by 2023. After partially loosing trade preferences to the European Union [AiR No. 7, February/2020, 3] Cambodia is still seeking for FTA’s with other economies like South Korea or the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). [Khmer Times]

10 March 2020

CIA accused of hacking campaign against China

(dql) A Chinese security firm has accused the CIA of hacking various Chinese industry sectors and government agencies for espionage purposes from 2008 to 2019. The firm cited intercepted malicious software samples as well as an analysis of the times in which these software samples were created. Both suggest that the tools were devised during working hours on the U.S. East Coast, where the CIA’s headquarter is located.  [Reuters]

The accusation comes weeks after US federal prosecutors announced charges against four Chinese intelligence officers accused of hacking the credit-reporting giant Equifax back in 2017 exposing sensitive financial records of almost 150 million Americans and many other foreigners. [AiR No. 6, February/2020, 2]

10 March 2020

China: Recently commissioned warships declared combat-ready

(dql) Signaling the ongoing advancement of the modernization of the China’s military, only one year after commission two Chinese warships are ready to serve in battle. According to Global Times a guided missile destroyer and a guided missile frigate passed an all-subject training examination at sea. [Global Times]

For the technology and performance capabilities of these warships see [The Diplomat].

10 March 2020

China: Plan to relax immigration rules triggers nationalist outcry

(dql) Reflecting rising nationalist sentiment in China’s population, new regulations to liberalize requirements for permanent residency for foreigners, proposed the China’s Ministry of Justice, caused a torrent of xenophobia in social media. Among other claims, the rules are seen endangering China’s race, society, culture, and economy. [subchina] [Sixth Tone]

10 March 2020

China/Hong Kong: Police conduct in protests defended

(dql) In response to ongoing criticism of Hong Kong’s police using excessive brutality to deal with protesters, the Deputy Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police Force defended at the UN Human Rights Council the city’s police arguing that accusations of police brutality were an attempt to vilify his institution and accusing rioting mobs of using violence to extort their demands from the government. [South China Morning Post]   

He was speaking as member of the Hong Group of the Chinese delegation to the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council. Last year, the UN Human Rights Office accused Hong Kong’s police of violating international norms and standards in their use of weapons, creating “a considerable risk of death or serious injury”.

3 March 2020

An analysis of India’s and China’s Eurasian strategies

(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation analyzes the trajectory of India’s and China’s Eurasian aspirations. In recent years, both India and China have developed different strategies to strengthen their respective ties with the resource-rich economies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, collectively called the Central Asian Republics. The paper argues that India’s “Connect Central Asia” approach is constructivist, while China’s Belt and Road Initiative is hegemonic. It also outlines recommendations for India’s Connect Central Asia policy. [Observer Research Foundation]

3 March 2020

Parallel to “Cobra Gold”, China and Cambodia hold joint military training “Golden Dragon 2020”

(jk) The Chinese and Cambodian armies hold a joint military training in Cambodia beginning this week, focussing on joint counter-terrorism combat. This joint training is the fourth of its kind. [Xinhua]

Last week, the Cobra Gold 2020 military exercise began in Thailand with nearly 10,000 participating soldiers from 29 countries, including the PRC, but with only seven countries participating the “main drills”. These are Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and the US. Cobra Gold is of particular importance to the coordination between the armed forces of the United States and Thailand. [Bangkok Post

3 March 2020

China-USA relations: US State Department issues restrictions of Chinese state-media entities

(dql) Following last month’s designation of five Chinese state-media entities operating in the USA as foreign missions requiring them to register their employees and U.S. properties and to receive US government approval to buy property [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4], the US Department of State has gone a step further and issued restrictions which set a limit on the number of Chinese nationals that may be employed at four of these entities to 100, down from currently 160. [CNN]

The move is widely seen as retaliation for China’s expulsion of three Wall Street Journal reporters for releasing an opinion piece of a US professor  titled “China is the real sick man of Asia” in which the government’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak is described as “ineffective”. [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4]

3 March 2020

China/Hong Kong: Protest violence reoccurs

(dql) After a period of relative calm since the outbreak of the coronavirus, violence reoccurred in Hong Kong during an anti-government rally past weekend when hundreds of protesters clashed with the police. [Reuters]

In an earlier development, a Hong Kong pro-democracy publishing tycoon and outspoken critic of Beijing, believed to be a major financial supporter of the anti-government protests, was arrested on charges of participating in an unauthorized assembly last August. [New York Times]

Amnesty International criticized the arrest as a “politically motivated” move to “suppress opposition voices”. [Amnesty International]

3 March 2020

China: Law prohibiting “spreading rumors” in force

(dql) Amid mounting criticism of the Chinese government suppressing information in the context of the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 [South China Morning Post], regulations came into effect on Sunday that allows only internet postings with what is called “encouraged” content about the country while banning “illegal” and “harmful” content. The latter categories include among others “spreading of rumors” and “sensationalizing headlines” as well as any “other content with a negative impact to the online information ecosystem”. [Business Insider] [Cyberspace Administration, China, for the law in Chinese] [China Law Translate, for an inofficial English translation of the law]

25 February 2020

South China Sea: New standoff between Malaysia and Vietnam questions solidarity versus China

(ls) The U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has published evidence of vessel movements in the South China Sea that indicate an ongoing standoff between Malaysian, Vietnamese and Chinese ships. In its report that outlines confrontations between Malaysian and Vietnamese ships, the center’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) questions why the Malaysian government chose to ignore a 2009 joint submission with Vietnam about continental shelf claims and, in so doing, “undermined whatever solidarity Southeast Asian parties might hope to build in their oil and gas disputes with Beijing.” [AMTI] [South China Morning Post]

25 February 2020

China to release water from dams as disputes along the Mekong river mount

(ls) China has announced to release more water from its dams on the Mekong River in order to help downstream neighbors cope with a prolonged drought. The government also said to consider sharing information on hydrology to provide further assistance in the future. Water disputes along the river are likely to occur more frequently over the coming years. In the past four months, Laos has opened two dams on the mainstream Lower Mekong and is expected to begin construction later this year on a third dam near the city of Luang Prabang. [Reuters]

Last week, the Fifth Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held in Vientiane, Laos. A brief report outlining Chinese positions can be found on the website of [China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs].

Previously, Thailand had cancelled an infrastructure project, the Lancang-Mekong Navigation Channel Improvement Project – also known as the Mekong “rapids blasting” project – along its border with Laos. The Chinese-led project aimed to blast and dredge parts of the Mekong riverbed to remove rapids so that it could be used by cargo ships, creating a link from China’s southwestern province of Yunnan to ports in Thailand, Laos and the rest of Southeast Asia. In the face of currently visible effects of environmental degradation, the Thai government decided not to pursue the project, which is a setback for China. [South China Morning Post]

25 February 2020

China ready for trade deal with UK

(dql) Providing Prime Minister Boris Johnson political tailwind, China has announced that it is ready for talks on a trade deal with the United Kingdom. The announcement comes at a time when London and Brussels are bracing for complicated trade negotiations after the UK’s departure from the European Union. [Sky News]

25 February 2020

China-USA relations: Washington imposes new rules on Chinese state-owned media

(dql) In a move likely to burden Sino-US relations, the USA has announced that five major Chinese state-run media entities with U.S. operations are treated as foreign missions. As such, they are required to comply with rules governing embassies and consulates, including registering their employees and U.S. properties with the State Department and receiving US government approval to buy property.

US officials justified this move by arguing that these state-media are “part and parcel of the People’s Republic of China propaganda machine”, working “100% for the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party.” [CNN]

Beijing strongly rejected the move calling it “totally unjustified and unacceptable”. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

25 February 2020

China: Regime-critical bookseller sentenced

(dql) A Chinese court sentence a Swedish Hong Kong-based bookseller, known for having sold books critical of China’s political leadership, to ten years in jail and deprivation of political rights for five years. The court found him guilty of illegally providing intelligence to foreign entities. [South China Morning Post]

Amnesty International called the charges “completely unsubstantiated” and the sentence “outrageous” and demanded his release. [Amnesty International]

25 February 2020

China: Wall Street Journal reporters expelled

(dql) The Chinese government revoked the press credentials of three Wall Street Journal reporters and expelled them for releasing an opinion piece of a US professor  titled “China is the real sick man of Asia” in which the government’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak is described as “ineffective”. [Wall Street Journal]

China’s Foreign Ministry defended the move by arguing that the piece used “racially discriminatory language and maliciously slander and attack China”. [South Korea Morning Post]

25 February 2020

China: Government held responsible for coronavirus spread

(dql) Echoing earlier criticism [AiR No. 6, February/2020, 2] a law professor of Beijing University and rights activist has attacked the government over its handling of the coronavirus epidemic. Arguing that the repression of a free information flow was responsible for the spread of the virus, he warned that “without press freedom, not only the people will live in distress, but the government will also live in mendacity.” [Asia News]

18 February 2020

China and USA cut tariffs  

(dql) In line with the “phase one” deal signed in January, the United States last week cut tariffs from 15% to 7.5% on 120 billion USD of Chinese imports in exchange for Beijing’s pledge to purchase U.S. goods and services over the next two years by minimum 200 billion USD. [Kyodo News]

China, meanwhile, announced earlier this month that it will cut its retaliatory tariffs on some U.S. goods worth 75 billion USD by February 14. [AiR No. 6, February/2020, 2

In a latest development, Beijing on this Tuesday announced that it will accept applications for new tariff exemptions for almost 700 products imported from the United States. [South China Morning Post]

18 February 2020

China and USA clash at Munich Security Conference

(dql) At the Munich Security Conference last weekend, both China and the USA appeared eager to sell their respective visions of global order while bashing on each in stark rhetoric. 

Dispersing concerns over cracks in the relationship between the USA and Europe, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected claims about the erosion of the transatlantic alliance as “grossly exaggerated.” He cited NATO’s pressure on Russia, unanimous support for Washington’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on grounds of Russian treaty violations, pressure on China’s aggression in the South China Sea, and sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear program as examples of the continued strength of the transatlantic alliance and insisted that the “West will win, and we will together,” adding with regards to China that “Western values would prevail over China’s desire for ‘empire’.” [Voice of America]

Defence Secretary Mark Esper, meanwhile, claimed that “[u]nder President Xi’s rule, the Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction,” citing ‘[m]ore internal repression; more predatory economic practices; more heavy-handedness; and […] a more aggressive military posture.” He urged the international community “to wake up to the challenges presented by Chinese manipulation of the long-standing international rules-based order.” 

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed Washington’s criticism as “lies”, accusing it in return of not willing “to see the rapid development and rejuvenation of China” and “to accept the success of a socialist country.” Claiming that China’s modernization was an unstoppable historical necessity, he demanded the West to “eschew the subconscious belief in the superiority of its civilization and abandon its prejudices and anxieties regarding China.” [CNBC] [China Daily]

In a surprisingly frank way, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized both the USA and China for “moving further and further away from the goal – international cooperation in order to create a more peaceful world.” Referring to “an increasingly destructive dynamic in international politics” in the wake of “great power competition”, he blamed the USA for “reject[ing] the very concept of an international community” and for pursuing being “’Great again’ – even at the expense of neighbours and partners,” and China for being “selective in accepting international law only where it does not run counter to its own interests.” [bundespraesident.de]

18 February 2020

China: Xi critic detained

(dql) Chinese rights activist Xu Zhiyong, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government who recently accused President Xi Jinping of being incapable of handling crises China’s is facing, including the trade war with the USA, the political crisis in Hong Kong, and the ongoing Covid-19 public health crisis, and demanded that he steps down, [AiR No. 6, February/2020, 2] was detained by authorities in the southern city of Guangzhou. [Radio Free Asia]

Xu has been hiding since December after police in December raided a secret gathering to discuss democratic transition of the country in which he took part. [AiR No. 1, January/2020, 1]

In a related development, a Chinese professor who criticized the Communist Party leaders for failing to control the coronavirus outbreak, was put under house arrest for several days last week. He is currently denied any internet access while his account has been suspended on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat. [The Guardian

18 February 2020

China/Hong Kong: Xi ally at helm of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office

(dql) Beijing last week appointed Xia Baolong, a vice-chairman and secretary general of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s highest advisory body, as director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. 

Widely regarded as a trusted ally of President Xi, Xia served as deputy party secretary of the province Zhejiang under Xi from 2003-2011 before becoming the province’s party chief in 2012. 

Along with Xia’s appointment, Luo Huining, a cadre credited with having successfully enforced Xi’s anti-corruption campaign in Shanxi province who was appointed as head of China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong in January, [AiR No. 1, January/2020, 1] was appointed one of the deputy directors of the office. [Xinhua]

Beijing’s move raised concerns among pan-democrats in Hong Kong’s legislature over the central government’s hardened stance on Hong Kong policy. Commentators and analysts view Xia’s appointment as Beijing’s attempt to strengthen oversight of the Hong Kong and the political crisis there which has been frozen in the wake of the Covid-19 epidemic. [South China Morning Post

11 February 2020

India-USA relations: Tightening relationships to counter China as global power

(tk/jk) President Trump is expected to visit India in late February and sign a limited trade deal with Modi which will be a significant rapprochement after more than a year of escalating tariffs and counter-tariffs. The premise of this relationship is to balance the offensive emergence of China seeking to expand its global reach. 

For President Trump, who has been facing an impeachment trial and is beginning his re-election campaign, even a modest deal with India would allow him to tell voters that his tough talk on trade is working. For Modi, it could help to counter India’s economic slowdown and ease perceptions that his nationalist government is hostile to foreign companies.

Some protestors in India fear an intensification of Modi’s Hindu nationalism as a threat to India’s secular democracy by close relations to President Trump who appeared sympathetic to Modi after he revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and passed a controversial citizenship law that excludes Muslims. At the recent “Howdy Modi” event in the US, Trump said: “India and the United States understand that to keep our communities safe, we must protect our borders.” [The New York Times] [AXIOS]

India already made the first step in this relationship by giving final approval to a $2.6bn deal to buy military helicopters from a United States defense firm. Those helicopters are meant to help the Indian navy track submarines in the Indian Ocean, where China is rapidly expanding its presence. [Al Jazeera]

On a related, yet more domestic note, India has disappointed observers of its defense posturing when India’s finance minister presented the country’s budget earlier in February. The country’s defense budget increased by 5% from last year, but considering inflation observers call this “a cut in real terms” and nowhere near enough to even attempt to address the structural challenges that are there. 

In addition, with an eye on naval competition in the Indian Ocean, the allocations for the various military services remain concerning. The army has received 56, the air force 23, and the navy only 15 percent of the budget. At any rate, at only 1.5 % of GDP overall, India won’t be making any major strides towards modernization of its military any time soon. [Asia Times] [Observer Research Foundation]

11 February 2020

Cross-strait relations: Chinese warplanes cross median line in Taiwan Strait

(dql) Taiwan’s air force scrambled after Chinese warplanes on Monday crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait on their way to the western Pacific. While Taiwan denounced the move as threat to regional peace, reassuring that it will not bow to China’s threats, the People’s Liberation Army announced that its forces carried out the drills “to further refine and test their multi-service joint combat capabilities.”

The incident came as Taiwan’s vice-president-designate William Lai Ching-te concluded his week-long ‘private’ visit to the US. He has been considered the highest-level Taiwanese official to meet with National Security Council officials since the US switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979. [The Diplomat][Aljazeera][South China Morning Post]

11 February 2020

China-USA trade relations: Beijing to cut tariffs on US goods

(dql) Signaling efforts to implement the recently signed ‘Phase One’ trade deal [AiR No. 3, January/2020, 3], China announced last week that it will cut tariffs by February 14. While Beijing will reduce tariffs on 75 billion USD worth of American goods. [Reuters]

11 February 2020

China-USA relations: Chinese military officials charged over massive data hack

(dql) US federal prosecutors announced charges against four Chinese intelligence officers accused of hacking the credit-reporting giant Equifax back in 2017 exposing sensitive financial records of almost 150 million Americans and many other foreigners. [New York Times]

Beijing denies the allegations, insisting that “the Chinese government, military and relevant personnel never engage in cyber theft of trade secrets” while accusing in return Washington of “cyber intrusion, surveillance and monitoring activities on foreign governments, institutions, enterprises, universities and individuals, including on its allies”. [Xinhua]

11 February 2020

China/Hong Kong: Commemoration of death of student ends up in violence between protesters and police

(dql) Protesters and police clashed past Saturday when around 100 protesters gathered to commemorate the death of a university student who died from the injuries after falling at a car park last November while police were carrying out a dispersal operation nearby by firing tear gas. The protesters shouted anti-government slogans including “Five demands, not one less” and “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times.” [South China Morning Post]

11 February 2020

China: President Xi faces demands to step down

(dql) In the wake of the outbreak and spread of the corona virus, China’s leadership including President Xi Jinping has become target of domestic criticism. Chinese scholars blamed the government and even demanded Xi to step down for failing to control the epidemic and for being unable to handle this and other major crises including the trade war with the USA and the Hong Kong protests. [South China Morning Post]

The critics came amid a nationwide outcry on social media against the government for silencing the doctor who in December warned of a deadly virus and last week succumbed to the virus. Instead of following his warning up, he was summoned by the police for spreading rumors and told “stop making false comments”. [BBC]

In his account on Beijing’s management of the public health crisis, focusing on the newly established ‘Central Leading Small Group for Work to Counter the New Coronavirus Infection Pneumonia Epidemic’, John Dotson argues that “CCP central leadership has been caught off-guard by the virus epidemic, and that it has been far more rattled than its confident pronouncements would seem to admit.” [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief

China’s National Health Commission confirmed 42,638 cases and 1,016 deaths in China as of February 10. [National Health Commission, China

4 February 2020

China passes Russia as second largest arms producer and dealer in new study 

(jk) China has overtaken Russia to become the world’s second-largest arms producer, according to revised research for the year 2017 published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) last week. Additionally, China’s four listed defence industry companies exceeded sales of the top ten Russian companies in 2017, making China also the second largest seller of arms. 

The research includes four Chinese companies for which credible financial information is available and with that reveals a new scale of the Chinese arms industry. [SIPRI]

SIPRI had previously excluded Chinese arms companies from its annual ranking over a lack of transparency and arms sales and production figures it did provide used to rank significantly lower. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ China Power Project for instance, Chinese weapons exports  – based on older SIPRI data – pale in comparison to both the US and Russia. [CSIS, China Power Project

Conversely, the new report holds that “overall, the estimates in this paper provide quantitative evidence that the Chinese arms industry is among the largest national arms industries in the world. Based on arms sales, all four companies profiled would be ranked among the 20 largest arms companies globally, with three—AVIC, NORINCO and CETC—in the top 10. The arms sales of just these four Chinese companies indicate that China is the second-largest arms producer in the world, behind the USA and ahead of Russia. However, there remains a need for more detailed research on the remaining six Chinese arms companies to offer a complete estimate of the Chinese arms industry.” [Estimating The Arms Sales Of Chinese Companies]

4 February 2020

China-European Union relations: Brussels refrains from Huawei ban in Europe

(dql) Defying US calls, the European Commission refrained from issuing an outright ban on the Chinese tech giant Huawei in Europe, but instead announced guidelines which leave each of the member states with ultimate responsibility for devising their own specific security measures.

The Commission announced in its guidance on 5G that the member states agreed “to assess the risk profiles of suppliers, to apply relevant restrictions for suppliers considered to be high risk including necessary exclusions for key assets considered as critical and sensitive,  and to have strategies in place to ensure the diversification of vendors.” [CNBC][European Commission]

The EU’s decision came shortly after Britain decided to allow Huawei to build up to 35 per cent of the “non-core” parts while blocking the company from taking part in the sensitive, or “core” infrastructure of the country’s 5G networks. [Wall Street Journal]

4 February 2020

China-USA relations: US House of Representatives passes Tibet bill

(dql) In the latest in a recent string of legislative moves critical of China’s human rights and religious policies, the US House of Representatives approved the Tibet Policy Support Act of 2019. The Act, which is now in the Senate for vote, demands that the succession of Tibetan Buddhist leaders to be solely in the hands of the Tibetan Buddhist community and free of interference from the Chinese government, and requires the US government to sanction under the Global Magnitsky Act Chinese officials who interfere in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The Act also bans new Chinese consulates in US territory until a US consulate is set up in Lhasa, the Tibet autonomous region’s capital. [South China Morning Post] [congress.gov]

The move was strongly rejected by Beijing which demanded that Washington correct the mistake and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs. [China Daily]

Earlier past November and December, the House had already passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which supports protesters in the special administrative region, and the UIGHUR Act, a legislation condemning Beijing for its mass internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. [AiR No. 50, December/2019, 2] [AiR No. 48, November/2019, 4]

4 February 2020

Thailand: media is outsourcing much of its coverage to Beijing 

(jk) Thai Channel 3 has announced this week a partnership with Chinese Xinhua News Agency to broadcast Xinhua coverage on the Coronavirus outbreak, leading to concern over fair and balanced reporting on the issue. Many other major Thai news-outlets already share large amounts of Xinhua content, which they get for free, making the deal at least financially attractive for the platforms. As the Thai Enquirer notes, however, the “dominance of Chinese content in Thai news long precedes the Coronavirus outbreak. Since 2019, Chinese media has been making tremendous inroads into Thai-language news and is beginning to make its appearance in English-language Thai newspapers.”

News Media is a struggling industry in Thailand with two of its countrywide English language  newspapers in very deep water – The Nation and the Bangkok Post- and China is increasingly trying to influence the narrative aboard. [Thai Enquirer]

28 January 2020

Thailand benefiting from Chinese investment due to U.S.-China trade war

(ls) Throughout the year 2019, Southeast Asian economies have largely benefited from the U.S.-China trade war as Chinese investors relocated their production bases. As for Thailand, China has become the country’s biggest foreign investor for the first time, replacing Japan. Chinese direct investment in Thailand jumped nearly five times to 262 billion baht ($8.6 billion) in 2019 from the previous year, far exceeding Japan’s 73.1 billion baht. [Nikkei Asian Review]

28 January 2020

China/Hong Kong: Chief Executive says she will not step down

(dql) Embattled Hong Chief Executive Carrie Lam used the international stage of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week to reiterate her refusal to step down over the ongoing unrest and to criticize the West for agenda-driven “disproportionate” coverage of the protests stating that she felt there was “something at work” behind the West’s interest in the Hong Kong protests though she would lack conclusive evidence. [South China Morning Post] [Hong Kong Free Press]

Lam’s resignation is among the demands of the protesters, together with universal suffrage in the upcoming Legislative Council election in September and an independent inquiry into police conduct during the protests. Beijing, however, has repeatedly confirmed its support for her.

28 January 2020

China-USA relations: New special envoy to counter growing Chinese influence at the United Nations appointed

(dql) Mark Lambert, until recently the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, has been appointed a new special envoy tasked with countering China’s growing influence at the United Nations and other international organizations. Lambert’s first major challenge will be to prevent a Chinese candidate from being elected the new Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization. The election in scheduled for March 5-6, with ten candidates vying for the top post. [Foreign Policy]

The move reflects Washington’s concerns over Beijing’s success in rallying the United Nations behind key foreign-policy initiatives and securing influential positions at the top of international organizations, including the post of the World Bank’s Chief Administrative Officer and Managing Director earlier this month,  and the Chief of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union, and President of the International Organisation of Standardisation in 2019. [Straits Times]

In a related development, the ICAO has been criticized for blocking Twitter accounts criticizing ICAO’s continued exclusion of Taiwan in time s of international public health crises. [Axios] [Focus Taiwan]

28 January 2020

China rejects US call for trilateral arms talks

(dql) Speaking at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva last week, the U.S. disarmament ambassador called on China to join trilateral nuclear arms talks with Russia, saying that Beijing’s secrecy around growing stockpiles was “serious threat to strategic stability”. [Voice of America]

In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the appeal declaring that “China has no intention of participating in any trilateral arms control talks with the US and Russia,” while Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia would partake these talks, but “won’t force China to change” its current position. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China] [Russia Today]

21 January 2020

Chinese President Xi visits Myanmar signing major infrastructure developments

(jk) Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar over the past weekend, marking the first trip by a Chinese President since 2001. In the country’s capital, Xi and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi signed 33 agreements, including some major infrastructure developments. 

One of them is the Kyaukphyu special economic zone (SEZ) and deep-sea port in Rakhine State providing access to the Bay of Bengal, as well as a railway link connecting the port with southern China. [The Diplomat] [Splash 247

The port project in particular worries neighboring countries suspicious of a larger Chinese footprint and a “string of pearls” strategy when seen together with other projects such as Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Gwadar in Pakistan or Djibouti. For obvious geographical reasons, Myanmar plays an important role in China’s strategic planning and after mounting pressure from many Western countries over the Rohingya crisis, Myanmar as well is looking for support and partners. 

Underscoring the notion that many of the deals struck are not purely economic in nature, after the visit, a joint statement was issued by China and Myanmar “in which Myanmar reaffirmed the so called ‘one-China principle’, naming Taiwan as an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China’s territory” [Focus Taiwan]. The English versions of the statement read slightly different. The MOFA Myanmar Facebook page for instance, referred to a commitment to a One China Policy and to the three regions as “inalienable parts of China”, not using the term “the People’s Republic.”

21 January 2020

Cross-strait relations: Tsai deepens anti-Beijing stance after reelection

(dql) Frosty cross-strait relations aren’t likely to see any improvement in the foreseeable future, following President Tsai Ing-wen’s latest statements on relations between Taiwan and China. 

In her first post-reelection interview, she reiterated her rejection of Beijing’s ‘one country, two systems’ frame for re-unification and said: “We are an independent country already and we call ourselves the Republic of China, Taiwan, adding: “We have a separate identity and we’re a country of our own. We deserve respect from China.” [Taipei Times]

In prior move last week, Beijing responded to Tsai’s reelection and insisted on adherence to the “1992 consensus” as the pre-condition for cross-strait relations, adding that peaceful reunification and ‘one country, two systems’ were “the fundamental guideline for seeking a solution to the Taiwan question.” [China.rog.cn]

The “1992 consensus” refers to a tacit understanding reached in 1992 between the then Kuomintang (KMT) government and the Chinese government, which the KMT has consistently interpreted as both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledging that there is only “one China” while each side is free to interpret what “China” means. However, Beijing has never publicly recognized the second part of the KMT interpretation. 

21 January 2020

China-USA relations: ‘Phase One’ trade deal signed

(dql) China and the USA last week concluded the so-called ‘phase one’ trade deal, under which, according to the White House, China has agreed on “significant structural reforms in a wide range of critical areas” of its economy, including access to its financial-services sector, currency devaluation and forced technology transfer, as well as on increasing its imports of American goods and services by at least 200 billion USD in the next two years. In return, the USA will not impose additional tariffs on 160 billion USD in Chinese imports, and reduce existing tariffs on 110 billion USD in Chinese goods from 15% to 7.5%.

The deal comes after more than two years of tense negotiations between the world’s two largest economies. US President Trump hailed the agreement as “a momentous step […] toward a future of fair and reciprocal trade” between both countries, while his Chinese counterpart Xi said that the deal was “good for China, the US and the whole world.” [The Diplomat][The Hill][CNN]

21 January 2020

China: Former Chinese Interpol chief sentenced lengthy prison term

(dql) In a high-profile corruption case, Meng Hongwei, the former head of Interpol, was sentenced to thirteen and a half years in jail for receiving bribes amounting 2.1 million USD and for abusing his former official positions between 2005 and 2007.

In the frame of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, which is seen by analysts also as a measure to remove political rivals, more than one million officials have been convicted. [Deutsche Welle]

21 January 2020

China: Anti-plastic campaign announced

(dql) China, the world’s largest plastic producer, is taking steps to reduce the country’s consumption of single-use plastic. According to plans of China’s National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Ecology and Environment, plastic bags will be banned in places such as supermarkets and shopping malls in major cities by the end of 2020 and in smaller cities and towns by 2022, while markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025. Other regulations include the nationwide ban of non-degradable, single-use plastic straws by the end of 2020, as well as the prohibition of the usage of non-degradable packaging for some delivery services in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai by 2022, to be extended to the whole country by 2025. [Bloomberg] [Reuters]

21 January 2020

China: Lowest birth rate in seven decades

(dql) With around 14.65 million newborns in 2019, China’s birth rate dropped last year to its lowest level since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. The data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics have fueled concerns over the economic and social impacts of an ageing society and shrinking workforce.  

In 2015, the Chinese government ended its one-child policy, allowing couples to have two children. However, hopes for an increase in the number of newborns has not materialized, as births have now fallen for three consecutive years after a slight increase in 2016. [BBC]

For data and perspectives on the global dimensions of aging populations, see [Visual Capitalist], which presents Japan as one the three countries with the oldest population and South Korea as one of the fasting aging OECD countries.

21 January 2020

China a “Global Threat to Human Rights”, HRW says

(dql) Released last week, Human Rights Watch’s “World Report 2020” has made China the centerpiece of the review of human rights practices and trends in 95 countries, as among those “the Chinese government stands out for the reach and influence of its anti-rights efforts.” China is accused of operating “an Orwellian high-tech surveillance state and a sophisticated internet censorship system to monitor and suppress public criticism” within China and of an “global assault on human rights” abroad, involving in its cause “willing accomplices” including “dictators, autocrats, and monarchs”, but also “governments, as well as companies and even academic institutions, that are ostensibly committed to human rights but prioritize access to China’s wealth.” [Human Rights Watch]

In another report, Freedom House has called on democratic governments to impose penalties on Chinese officials and tighten broadcast regulations amid a “dramatic expansion” in Chinese actions taken to exert influence media overseas. [Reuters]

Beijing rejected both reports, saying that they were “invariably filled with distortion of facts,” and insisting that human rights in China were “at its historical best”. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

21 January 2020

China/Hong Kong: Blueprint for independent inquiry into protests submitted to Lam

(dql) Last week, Hong Kong’s Bar Association provided Executive Chief Carrie Lam with a blueprint for the creation of an independent inquiry into the unrest of the past seven months. The blueprint calls for the inquiry to involve police, activists and members of the public and to cover 15 major protests and review ten specific areas of concern, including the use of force by both police and protesters. [Hong Kong Bar Association] [South China Morning Post]

An independent inquiry into alleged excessive force of the police during the protests is among the core demands of the protesters which Lam has so far refused to meet.   

A rally on Sunday, attended by thousands of people demanding universal suffrage in the Legislative Council election in September and calling for international support for their cause, ended in clashes between protesters and police after. [CNBC]

14 January 2020

China-Indonesia tensions around Natuna Islands eased

(ls/lf) The Chinese vessels that had entered Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone around the Natuna Islands have exited the area, easing the tensions between the two countries. Before, the Indonesian air force had deployed four F-16 fighter jets to monitor the situation. As reported last week, Beijing contends that the waters are part of its “traditional” fishing grounds and that the area is within its “nine-dash line”. Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared that the incident shall not harm the friendly relations between the two countries. [South China Morning Post] [Reuters 1]

China is Indonesia’s biggest trading partner and a major investor. Both countries enjoy broad cooperation, including in infrastructure development such as the high-speed railway project linking Jakarta with Bandung. The US$6 billion project is part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond. [Straits Times]

Meanwhile, however, President Widodo asked Japan to step up investment in fisheries and energy in some of its South China Sea islands, in particular also the Natunas. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi declared that the two countries also wanted to strengthen coastguard coordination. Japan last year gave Indonesia 100 billion rupiah ($7.26 million) to build a fish market in Natuna, which will be named Tsukiji after the famous Tokyo market. [Reuters 2]

14 January 2020

Pakistan-China naval exercise in Karachi 

(jk) The sixth instalment of the Pakistan-China joint Naval exercise “Sea Guardians 2020” commenced in Karachi past week. The two navies are working to increase inter-operability and deepen their security cooperation. [The News Pakistan]

Reportedly, India has expressed some concerns over the exercise as they occur in the Arabian Sea region which hosts many important Indian ports as well as Pakistan’s deep water Gwadar port which is being developed on Chinese finance. In what is seen as a direct reaction to the drills, India has deployed its aircraft carrier to the region. [VoA] [The Economic Times

14 January 2020

China-USA relations II: Beijing not anymore considered currency manipulator

(dql) Ahead of the signing of the ‘phase one’ trade deal between China and the USA, expected for this Wednesday, the US Treasury Department has announced to remove China from the list of  countries considered currency manipulators on which it was put in August last year amid heightened trade tensions. [BBC]

14 January 2020

China demand USA to halt sanctions against Chinese companies doing business with Iran 

(dql) Following new US sanctions against Iran in the wake of attacks on US and allied troops in Iraq last week, Beijing urged Washington to stop sanctions on Chinese companies which continue to do business with Iran. Denouncing the sanctions as “wrongful action”, Beijing insisted that cooperation between China and Iran was “legitimate and law-abiding”.  [South China Morning Post

Meanwhile, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that China “has cut off all of the state companies from buying oil” and that the USA and China work together to make sure that China stops “all additional oil activities.” [Fox Business]

14 January 2020

China/Hong Kong: Protesters demand universal suffrage in upcoming LegCo election

(dql) On past Sunday, thousands of people joined a rally in Hong Kong to demand universal suffrage in the Legislative Council election in September and to call on the international community to impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials if the demand would not be met.  The demand of universal suffrage is directed against those 35 of the 70 seats in the city’s legislature which are indirectly elected through interest-group-based functional constituencies with limited electorates.

The sanctions could include freezing their overseas assets or imposing economic sanctions on the city, according to the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team, the rally organizer. [South China Morning Post 1]

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth was barred from entering Hong Kong after arriving at the city’s airport on Monday. He had planned to release the organization’s World Report 2020 this Wednesday, containing a lead essay on China’s “intensifying assault on the international human rights system”. [Human Rights Watch]

In an assertive response, Beijing justified this move by saying that “abundant facts and evidence have shown that the NGOs concerned have been supporting anti-China rioters in Hong Kong through various means, inciting violence and inflaming separatist activities for ‘Hong Kong independence’. They bear major responsibility for the current chaos in Hong Kong. Sanctions on these organizations are therefore fully justified as they should pay the price for what they’ve done.” [Ministry of Foreign, China

In earlier move last week, pro-democracy political party Demosisto decided to remove the term “self-determination” from its manifesto and to replace it by the phrase “promoting Hong Kong’s democratic and progressive values”. The decision is a concession to political and judicial realities following the disqualification of one of its leader’s candidacy in the city’s district council elections last November. [South China Morning Post 2] [No. 45, November/2019, 1]

7 January 2020

Malaysia Receives First of Four Large Patrol Ships Built in China

(jk) Malaysia’s Navy has received one of four large patrol ships it had ordered from China. The deal, first approved by former Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2017 and then slightly renegotiated under current PM Mahathir, is the first of its kind between the two nations. Malaysia has ordered the ships amidst a naval modernization effort reflecting new realities in its neighbourhood. [Radio Free Asia]

7 January 2020

New momentum in the South China Sea? Criticism mounts as Indonesia rebukes China’s claim 

(jk) Last week, Jakarta had protested to Beijing over the presence of a Chinese coast guard vessel in its territorial waters around the Natuna Islands. The “strong protest” and summoning of the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta was met with a statement from Beijing claiming that China has sovereignty of large parts of the South China Sea and “normal” fishing rights in the concerned area.

In a relatively sharp response, Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry asked China to explain the “legal basis and clear borders” regarding its claims based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also mentioning the arbitration ruling in the Hague in 2016. [Jakarta Post 1] [Sydney Morning Herald

Indonesia’s official position is that it is a non-claimant state in the South China Sea having no overlapping claims with China. The Natuna Islands however, in fact outside even of the spurious “nine-dash line”, are just south of the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, and amid increasing presence and scope of China’s claims and actions, Indonesia is concerned about more Chinese vessels illegally entering and fishing in its waters.

Indonesia has stepped up sea and aerial patrols of islands, deploying navy, army and air force personnel to the area, including eight war ships. [South China Morning Post] [Channel News Asia] It has also said it has mobilised over one hundred fishermen to operate in the area, supposedly to reinforce Indonesian presence. [Jakarta Post 2]  

The move that publicly denounces China’s “historic rights” and again redirects some of the attention to the 2016 ruling, comes after the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs called China’s claims “ridiculous” earlier in December [Asia in Review, No. 52, December/2019, 4] and the country submitted its extended continental shelf claims beyond a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to the United Nations’ Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, based on a joint  submission made with Vietnam in 2009. [Asia Times] The joint submission did not indicate a division of the claims between the two countries, but it does pose a direct challenge to the Chinese claims. [Asia Sentinel]

With Vietnam as the ASEAN chair for 2020, recent moves in Malaysia, Indonesia and steadily simmering unease about Chinese involvement also in Philippine waters, some observers see a difficult year ahead for Chinese claims in the South China Sea. Whether these actions will result in anything tangible and more than “strong protests” however remains to be seen and is dependent on outside support as well as whether or not Southeast Asian countries can find a common position from which they can challenge Chinese claims. 

7 January 2020

Xinhua begins Urdu service in Pakistan

(jk) Xinhua, the leading state-run press agency of the People’s Republic of China, has launched an Urdu service in Pakistan and signed memoranda of understanding with a dozen local media publishers. It will now provide news services to local news agencies in both English and Urdu. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In Pakistan, a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information said last week that Xinhua has been portraying a positive image of Pakistan globally and that local news outlets should do similar things with regards to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [Newsweek Pakistan] which has been criticized time and again, in particular in Baluchistan. 

Xinhua plays a crucial role in the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy to influence narratives in media reporting. 

7 January 2020

China-Japan relations: Tensions resurface over El Salvador port development project

(dql) Warming ties between China and Japan has seen a set-back when it was revealed last week that Tokyo pressured El Salvador to scrap plans to hand over operating rights of a port to a Chinese company by threatening to withdraw its funding of 102 million USD for development projects in the Central American country which switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China in 2018.

Tokyo’s move reportedly came after Washington expressed concerns about the Chinese firm’s interest in the project and signals the broader Sino-US tensions over China’s infrastructure expansion plans in the frame of its Belt and Road initiative. [South China Morning Post]

7 January 2020

China joins Russia and Iran in first ever trilateral naval exercise and blames USA for killing of Iranian General 

(dql)  China, Russia and Iran held an unprecedented joint naval exercise outside the Strait of Hormuz from 27 December until 31 December 2019. While the drill focused only on joint rescue and anti-piracy operations, it sends a strong signal to the world at a time of heightened tensions between these countries and the USA. The commander of Iran’s navy is quoted saying: “Today, the era of American free action in the region is over.” [Eurasia Review][Newsweek]

The exercise came shortly before the U.S. killing of Iranian General Qassim Suleimani on January 2 which has escalated the tensions between the USA and Iran, with both sides announcing tit-for-tat retaliatory attacks and counterattacks. [Axios] [CNN]

In response, Beijing urged all sides to exercise restraint, while warning that “[t]he dangerous US military operation violates the basic norms of international relations and will aggravate regional tensions and turbulence.” Furthermore, at a meeting with his Iranian counterpart this Tuesday in Beijing Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear pact and the sanctions against Iran “the sources of the current tension arising over the Iranian nuclear issue.” [Xinhua] [South China Morning Post]

For prospects of Iran’s integration into the China-Russia Eurasian architecture see Micha’el Tanchum in [East Asia Forum], who argues that “[a]nything short of a complete security arrangement for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that is guaranteed by US military power will open the door for China and Russia to further reorient Iran and its Arab rivals towards the China-Russia Eurasian framework.”

7 January 2020

China: Pro-democracy activists detained

(dql) Indicating further shrinking space for civil liberties in China, more than a dozen pro-democracy activists, partaking a gathering to discuss democratic transition of the country, went missing or were arrested by authorities during a roundup at the end of the year, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a non-government organization of domestic and overseas Chinese human rights activists and groups, headquartered in Washington DC. [NCHRD][Hong Kong Free Press]

7 January 2020

China/Hong Kong: New Liaison Office Director appointed amid continued protest

(dql) The new year in Hong Kong started like the old year had ended: On New Year’s Day Hong Kong saw an anti-government protest march for which the protest organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front, claimed a turnout higher than the 1.03 million estimate for the first major rally against the extradition bill back in June 2019. Police, however, put the figure at 47,000 during the march while another 13,000 were still at the starting point. The march which began peacefully ended in clashes between protesters and police and around 400 arrests. [South China Morning Post

Meanwhile, Luo Huining, former governor and party secretary of Qinghai and Shanxi provinces, has been appointed new Director of China’s Hong Kong Liaison Office replacing Wang Zhimin widely believed to have been sacked over Beijing’s discontent with his crisis management in the past year. It is the first major leadership reshuffle since the protests started in June. [BBC]

While Luo is credited with having successfully enforced the central government’s anti-corruption campaign in Shanxi to stabilize the province’s economy, his appointment comes as a surprise as he has no direct experience in Hong Kong. It remains to be seen whether the change in personnel will lead to a change in policy.

Luo himself remained silent on this in his maiden speech, in which he only reassured that the “One country, two systems” formula would provide the best advantages for Hong Kong and expressed his confidence that the city will overcome the agony of the past months and “go back to a right path” to achieve long-term stability and prosperity. [Asia Times]