Asia in Review Archive 2020 (January – June)

China (People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

4 August 2020

Germany suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong 

(dql) Citing the disqualification of opposition candidates and the postponement of the legislative election in Hong Kong (see above) as another blow to rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, Germany suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong, following the example of the Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. 

China expressed strong opposition calling Berlin’s move as “a serious breach of international law and basic norms governing international relations and gross violation of China’s internal affairs.” [Global News]

4 August 2020

Japan: Ruling party urges to restrict TikTok

(mp) Japanese lawmakers urged the government to propose restrictions of Chinese-developed smartphone applications such as TikTok in order to guarantee tighter protection of confidential information. This step is recognized as a measure to ensure further security collaboration with the US, which had brought up similar proposals. TikTok, having over 10 million users in Japan, has been under fire due to concerns over the collection of user data for the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party, respectively. TikTok stressed that they have never received such a data request from Beijing and would also not follow one. India previously had announced a ban on dozens of Chinese-developed apps.

In a related development, the Japanese ruling party announced plans to build up a security clearance program to protect information and vulnerable technology from foreign influence. Critics, however, warned Tokyo against distancing from China, which is Japan’s largest trade partner. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Reuters]

4 August 2020

Malaysia: Confrontational stance against China’s South China Sea claims

(dql) Signaling a hardening stance towards China, Malaysia in a letter to the United Nations last week, has stated that China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea are lacking a legal basis, adding that it “rejects China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line.'” 

The wording of the letter is much stronger than the wording Kuala Lumpur had used in previous communications with the U.N., suggesting that Malaysia may be emboldened by the tougher U.S. stance. [Nikkei Asian Review]

4 August 2020

India-China border tensions: India sends additional troops

(ls) India is positioning an additional 35,000 troops along its disputed Himalayan border with China. Though the two sides were disengaging in most locations after several rounds of high-level military talks, China had also increased its military presence with about 50,000 troops earlier. [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4] The deployment comes as the Indian Army is already heavily committed, from protecting the disputed border with Pakistan, to counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and north eastern states and monitoring its border with China. [Bloomberg Quint]

Strengthening border defenses comes at huge cost and puts India’s military modernization program under pressure. In this regard, the first batch of five French-made Rafale fighter jets has arrived at an Indian Air Force base last week. The jets are part of a $9.4bn deal signed with France in 2016. India has become the world’s biggest arms importer. In early July, the government also approved the purchase of 21 Russian MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter aircraft. [Al Jazeera]

A comparison of India’s capacities to China’s military aircraft power in the region can be found here: [Forbes]

4 August 2020

US offers Japan help in Senkaku conflict with China

(mp) After tensions with China have worsened due to the conflict over the China-disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4], Washington has announced its commitment to help Tokyo handling the continual and “unprecedented” incursions by Chinese coast guard vessels into Japan-administered territory in the East China Sea. While the US has been neutral on the issue of sovereignty of the disputed area and has not participated in the daily tensions, it at the same time declared that the disputed islands are covered by the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security and would, therefore, be defended against hostile aggression. [Nikkei Asian Review]

4 August 2020

China-EU relations: Investment agreement, Hongkong and cyberattacks

(dql) Last week, the European Union and China held their 8th High-Level Trade and Economic Dialogue via teleconference. Both sides agreed to speed up talks in order to conclude a China-EU investment agreement by the end of this year and continue to strengthen macro-economic policy adjustments and implement effective fiscal and monetary policies to boost the recovery of the global economy recovery. With regards to fighting the coronavirus, Brussels and Beijing pledged to deepen bilateral cooperation in virus prevention, vaccine development and exchanges of professionals. [Reuters]

This outcome of the trade talks, however, was accompanied by China-critical steps the EU agreed on or took.

In response to the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing that the Brussels believes could gravely “erode rights and freedoms” in the former British colony, European Union member states reached an agreement on measures including restrictions of the export of any equipment or technology to Hong Kong that can be used for “internal repression, interception of internal communications or cyber surveillance.” The measures also cover easing requirements for Hongkongers to travel to Europe, as well as for visas, scholarships and academic exchanges. However, the agreement fell short of any sanctions to be imposed against Hong Kong. [Deutsche Welle]

Furthermore, the European Union imposed its first-ever sanctions against six individuals and three entities from China, Russia and North Korea that were held responsible for, or involved in, three large cyberattacks targeting the EU and its member states in the past decade. The sanctions cover asset freezes and travel bans, as well as prohibiting EU organizations and individuals from making funds available to sanctioned people and entities. [Computer Weekly]

4 August 2020

China-USA tensions continue over TikTok, Xinjiang, and South China Sea

(dql) Last week saw again several events and developments which further highlight the strained Sino-US relations.

Following his last week’s threat to ban US operations of TikTok – a popular Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by a Beijing-based Internet technology company – US President Donald Trump this Monday announced that while TikTok must sell off its US business by mid of September to avoid the ban, the government must receive a share of such a deal.

While Trump cited security concerns as reason for this move saying “It’s got to be an American company, it’s got to be American securities, got to be owned here,” Beijing expressed firm opposition to “discriminatory US policies against Chinese software companies” and Washington’s “tendency to generalize the concept of national security, make guilty presumptions without evidence and politicize economic issues.” Chinese state media meanwhile condemned the move as “open robbery”, accusing Trump of “turning the once great America into a rogue country.” [Reuters 1][Business Insider] [Global Times] [Reuters 2]

In a latest development, Microsoft announced that it “is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States.” [Microsoft]

In another move further worsening already frosty relations between Beijing and Washington over Xinjiang, the U.S. Treasury Department has blacklisted Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), along with two of its officials, over accusations of being implicate in human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

XPCC is unique economic and paramilitary organization in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China administrating a number of medium-sized cities as well as settlements and farms in this region and fulfilling governmental functions such as healthcare, policing, and education for areas under its jurisdiction. It was created as a refuge for many former soldiers – both Nationalist and Communist – left adrift at the end of the country’s civil war who would both settle the land and defend it – against external assaults and an unruly population. [Foreign Policy]

Meanwhile, Chinese H-6G and H-6J bombers last week conducted a high-intensity exercise over the South China Sea. The drills covered simulated nighttime take-offs, long-range raids and attacks on sea targets. Analysts suggest that the exercise involved scenarios of attacks on U.S. Navy carrier strike groups. Furthermore, three of China’s five military commands have conducted air combat readiness exercises over the South China Sea. [South China Morning Post 1] [Amercian Military News] [South China Morning Post 2]

The exercises come amid heightened Sino-US tensions over the South China Sea and weeks after US Secretary of State Pompeo declared most of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea “completely unlawful”, adding that “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law […],” to “reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.” [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]

Confirming the current distrust towards China in the USA, the Pew Research Center revealed that almost 75% of Americans have unfavorable views of China among Americans, marking a “new historic high” since the start of the China survey of the Center in 2005. A major factor for this negative survey result is the view that China handled outbreak of the coronavirus poorly and is to be blamed for its global spread. [Pew Research Centrer]

The Paew Research Center is an American think tank, based in Washington, D.C., and specialized in social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends shaping the United States and the world.

4 August 2020

China: Major corruption case

(dql) In one of the country’s biggest corruption case, the former party chief of Shaanxi province was given a suspended capital punishment after he was found guilty of accepting bribes of more than 100 million USD in return for his approval of construction projects, business operations and appointments to government jobs. [South China Morning Post]

In a second case, the former chairman of the China Development Bank pleaded guilty to illegally receiving over 12 million USD for using his position to help obtain and increase bank credit lines, establish an auto finance company, and support job promotions. [Asia Times]

The cases are the latest in President Xi Jinping’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign in which over one million officials have been punished, with critics arguing that the campaign is also used to purge political contenders of the President. [RTL]

4 August 2020

China: Hong Kong government postpones election, bans opposition candidates

(dql) Hong Kong’s already tense political atmosphere further escalated following several steps taken by the city’s government over the course of last week.

In a first, highly controversial move, Hong Kong’s government decided to postpone the Legislative Council (LegCo) election, initially planned for 6 September, for one year citing public health concerns in the face of resurging numbers of Covid-19 cases in the city. The government also referred its decision to the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, to resolve the vacuum created by the expiring term of the current LegCo. [New York Times]

The election postponement triggered concerns and anger among legal scholars and the opposition camp. While the city’s Bar Association expressed doubts about the legality of the one-year-delay of the election, opposition politicians condemned the move as an attempt of the government and the ruling parties to escape defeat in the election in which the opposition camp is hoping to win for the first the majority in the LegCo based on its landslide victory in the district council last November and on the ongoing wave of anti-government sentiment in the city. [Deutsche Welle] [South China Morning Post]

In a second major blow to the opposition camp, returning officers have barred 12 of its candidates from standing for the legislative election, citing results of an eligibility testing that suggested that the disqualified had pushed for the independence of the former British Colony, sought foreign governments’ intervention or rejected the new national security law. While Beijing expressed its full support for the decision, banned candidates saw their disqualification as outcome of  “the relentless oppression that this regime is starting,” and accused Beijing a “total disregard for the will of Hongkongers” and of  “trampl[ing] upon “the city’s last pillar of vanishing autonomy.” [BBC 1] [The Guardian]

The ban comes a month after Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law for Hong Kong and signal’s the determination of Beijing to further tighten its grip on Hong Kong.

Reinforcing this trend, the Council of the University of Hong Kong last week fired law professor and pro-democracy activist Benny Tai on grounds of a criminal conviction over his role in the 2014 pro-democracy protests. Tai was among the leading figures the 2014 “umbrella protests” that bought Hong Kong’s business districts to a standstill for over two months as Hongkongers took to the streets to call for democracy. Tai called the Council’s decision, which reverses a prior decision of the University’s Senate in favor of Tai’s further employment, the “end of academic freedom in Hong Kong” and pointed to external pressure for his dismissal saying that the decision was “made not by the University of Hong Kong but by an authority beyond the University through its agents.” [BBC 2] [Aljazeera]

In a related development earlier last week, former members of the now disbanded Hong Kong pro-independence group Studentlocalism were arrested over social media posts calling for the establishment of a Republic of Hong Kong and a union of all pro-independence political groups.

Studentlocalism disbanded on June 30, shortly before Beijing on the same day imposed the new national security law which criminalizes subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. Their case is the first one under this legislation. [Hong Kong Free Press]

28 July 2020

Japan: Chinese ships near Senkaku islands for one hundred days

(mp) On Wednesday, ships of the Chinese Coast Guard were spotted close to the Japan-administered Senkaku islands for the 100th day, marking the longest period since Japan put them under state control in 2012. According to the Japan Coast Guard, one of the four spotted vessels, weighing over 3,000 tons, carried a machine gun; some further attempted to track Japanese fishing boats operating in the area.

While Beijing claimed the islands as their own territory, called Diaoyu, Tokyo condemned China´s action as an “extremely serious” issue, conducted formal protest, and urged increasing the activity of patrol ships of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force to defend its territory. The China Coast Guard has command over about twice as many 1,000-tons-vessels as their Japanese counterpart.

The event comes at a time when the United States put pressure upon an increasingly confident China in the South China Sea, and the Japanese-American partnership gains strategic importance after the COVID-19 pandemic had put a power vacuum on the Asia Pacific region. [Kyodo] [Nikkei Asian Review]

28 July 2020

Singaporean pleads guilty to spying for China in the US

(ls) A Singaporean citizen pleaded guilty last week in Washington to charges of operating illegally as a foreign agent for the Chinese government and obtaining non-public information from the United States. The man with the name Jun Wei Yeo, also known as Dickson Yeo, studied at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. According to court documents, he had worked under the direction and control of Chinese intelligence over the past four to five years. [South China Morning Post]

28 July 2020

Chinese influence on Vietnam’s economy amid South China Sea tensions

(jn) Tensions between Vietnam and China over the South China Sea dispute notwithstanding, the Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has approved a loan of $100 million to Hanoi-based commercial VP Bank last week. According to the AIIB, the money is meant to help the Vietnamese economy recover from pandemic-related woes, especially propping up small and medium-sized businesses.

Experts see the loan as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the large-scale development strategy that it is pursuing worldwide to expand its economic reach and gain geopolitical clout. Given the relatively frosty relationship between both countries, the loan was not so much a breakthrough for the BRI in Vietnam than an “olive branch” extended to Hanoi as it weighs new steps in countering China’s ambitions in the South China Sea. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In another instance, it has now become public that the government-owned energy company PetroVietnam is liable to pay compensation of around one billion dollars to international oil companies, the Spanish company Repsol and UAE-based Mubadala. The financial obligations are a result of the Vietnamese leadership ordering the cancellation of drilling contracts on oil fields in the South China Sea in reaction to intense pressure from China. PetroVietnam had ordered Repsol to stop drilling operations in 2017 and 2018 in two blocks of seabed after China had flexed its naval muscles in a large-scale exercise off Hainan island [see AiR No. 13, April/2018, 1]

This month, Chinese pressure led to the cancellation of another contract for a new oil rig for the Russian company Rosneft that had waited in a Vietnamese port until now. A Chinese coast guard ship was spotted circling the predecessor platform at the Russian site, which surprised observers who expected China to be more reluctant to antagonize Moscow. [The Diplomat]

Analysts assess Vietnam’s options in the South China Sea dispute to be rather limited, especially in the case of armed conflict. China’s military capabilities seriously dwarf Vietnam’s, even giving Beijing the opportunity of a mere “warm-up fight” in the South China Sea, the real adversary for China being the US. Vietnam would, according to experts, stick to diplomacy as long as possible to uphold the status quo. 

It is still unclear whether Vietnam’s strategic deck of cards has really been improved by the newly outspoken and hardened US position on China’s encroachment in the South China Sea: The US has still to prove that it would live up to its commitments to international law and the sovereignty of states in the region when push comes to shove, and the superpower is not the military ally (yet) that Vietnam could rely on for plotting its future course. [Asia Times]

28 July 2020

India-China relations: No more thinning out of troops in Eastern Ladakh region

(lf/lm) After last month’s clash in the Ladakh region’s Galwan Valley killed 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops [see e.g. AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2], the two countries are seemingly preparing for the long-haul on their disputed Himalayan frontier, despite reports of a disengagement at the site of their recent clash. After satellite images had captured the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deploying close to 50,000 troops in Aksai Chin, the Indian military on Monday responded in kind by also deploying additional weapons and troops to Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) to prevent any possible Chinese aggression from the north. [Hindustan Times]

After reviewing the situation in the border areas and the disengagement process in the Western sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), on Friday, China and India had originally agreed on an “early and complete disengagement” of troops to ensure the restoration of peace and smooth bilateral relations, according to the Indian government. Moreover, India said the two countries’ top military commanders were to meet again soon under the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) to “ensure expeditiously complete disengagement”. On Saturday, then, India`s northern army commander indicated that the situation along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh hasn`t returned to the status quo ante, saying that disengagement between Indian and Chinese soldiers deployed in forward positions at flashpoints along the de-facto border was a complex and intricate process that required diligent execution. [Reuters] [Hindustan Times]

In related news, the first five of 36 French Rafale fighter jets purchased by New Delhi in a controversial multibillion-dollar deal are expected to arrive in India this Wednesday, and are likely be deployed in the Ladakh sector by the second half of the next month. Contracted from France under a $9.4 billion Inter-Governmental Agreement signed in 2016, the deal has been shadowed by corruption allegations levelled by the opposition Congress party, though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejected the claims. Citing “critical operational requirements” along the country’s northern border, India earlier this month had announced the purchase of defence weapons and equipment worth around $40 million, in addition to the purchase of thirty-three Russian fighter jets. [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5] [Al Jazeera] [The Hindu]

28 July 2020

China: New Zealand suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong  

(dql) In response to Bejing’s passage of the national security law for Hong Kong, New Zealand has suspended its extradition treaty with the former British colony. 

The move prompted Beijing’s strong opposition, calling it “serious violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations.” 

New Zealand is the latest member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong. Australia, Canada, and the UK also took this step, while the USA has signaled to do the same. [South China Morning Post] [Al Jazeera]

28 July 2020

China-UK relations: Beijing’s threatens to stop recognizing BNO passports

(dql) In a latest development of Chinese-British tensions over Hong Kong, Beijing threatened to stop recognizing British National Overseas (BNO) passports. The move is a response to London’s efforts to advance its plans to offer BNO passport-holders residency and citizenship in the UK, including dropping income threshold requirements for moving to the United Kingdom and staying for up to five years, at which point full citizenship could be applied. [Reuters]

The generosity of the British offer took China at surprise prompting a fiercely worded rejection accusing London of “deliberately resorting to political manipulation on the issue of BN(O), openly defying its pledges and violating international law and fundamental principles.” [South China Morning Post]

London’s visa policy adds up to tensions between the two countries which have risen over London’s announcement to ban of Huawei from its 5G networks, requiring British telecoms operators to remove all of Huawei’s components from their 5G mobile infrastructure by 2027, and prohibiting them to purchase Huawei’s products from January 2021. [AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]

28 July 2020

China-Russia relations: S-400 delivery to Beijing postponed?

(dql) Indian news outlets report that Russia has announced to postpone the delivery of the S-400 missile system to China, calling it a major setback for China-Russia relations and coming amid border tensions between China and India with whom Russia also signed a deal on the S-400 systems in  2018 wort 5.5 billion USD. 

China and Russia in 2014 signed a government-to-government contract, worth 3 billion USD. Beijing received its first S-400 batch in May 2018. [WION] [Economic Times]

TASS, however, reports that Russia has completed delivery of a second S-400 missile system regimental set to China. [TASS]

28 July 2020

China-USA tensions further heightened: Tit-for-tat consulate closures

(dql) Diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Washington reached new heights when China on Monday took over the US consulate in the southwestern city Chengdu justifying the move as an inevitable response to the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston last week ordered by the US on grounds of hiding intellectual property theft in the Chinese consulate. [South China Morning Post 1] [BBC]

The tit-for-tat consulate closures marks a new low in already highly strained Sino-US relations over a number of issues including trade, Covid-19, national security, human rights, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea reflected by several further events and developments over the course of last week. 

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced earlier last week that two Chinese hackers have been indicted over charges of being involved in a “global computer intrusion campaign” backed by the Chinese government and aimed at stealing – among others – research on coronavirus treatment and vaccine. [CNN] [Supchina]

In another development, a Chinese researcher at the University of California was arrested, suspected to be a Chinese military and accused of visa fraud and hiding the true nature of her work, as well as a Singaporean national who confessed in a trial in New York to be a Chinese agent charged with recruiting military and government employees with high-level security clearances. [Financial Times]

Furthermore, the USA announced that it has halted its Fulbright program in mainland China and Hong Kong for the exchange year 2020-2021. The Fulbright program, established in 1946 and currently covering over 160 countries, provides scholarships to American and foreign academics to teach, research and study in each other’s countries. [South China Morning Post 2] For an inner-American critical assessment of this move of the Trump administration calling it shortsighted and “likely to damage bilateral ties further down the road by politicizing nuanced vehicles of exchange between China and the United States,” see Eleanor Albert at [The Diplomat].

Meanwhile, US warplanes conducted provocative reconnaissance flights approaching the Chinese mainland near the coast of Zhejiang and Fujian including one flight which came less than 100km close to Shanghai. The flights raised the number of sorties to a record of 50 over the South China Sea in the first three weeks of July, confirming a new phase of US aerial reconnaissance in this disputed region in the first half of 2020. [Livemint]

Summarizing the heightened atmosphere of distrust and hostility between China and the USA, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week delivered one of his most aggressive China-speeches in which he accused the Communist government of tyrannically ruling its people under a “totalitarian” ideology, adding: “Communists almost always lie. The biggest lie that they tell is to think that they speak for 1.4 billion people who are surveilled, oppressed and scared to speak out.” He called on other nations to follow Washington’s example and to “insist on reciprocity, to insist on transparency, and accountability from the Chinese Communist Party.”[New York Post]

28 July 2020

China: Chinese are satisfied with work of government

(dql) According to data presented by the Centre for Democratic Governance and Innovation of Harvard University, the Chinese government enjoys a high degree of approval in the country’s population. A long-term survey, titled “Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time” revealed that the approval rate increased from 86% in 2003 to 93% in 2016. [South China Morning Post] [Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, for the report on the survey]

28 July 2020

China: Political heavyweight to face trial

(dql) Ren Zhiqiang, an influential former Chinese property executive, known for his open critic of President Xi Jinping and holder of a social media account which had 37 million followers before it was shut down, was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party for violations of party discipline and law and is expected to face criminal charges soon. [Reuters]  

In his latest criticism of Xi, before he went missing in March, he slammed China’s leadership for concealing its mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, adding that he “saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his new clothes, but a clown who was stripped naked and insisted on continuing being emperor.” [AiR No. 11, March/2020, 3]

Ren Zhiqiang’s case draw’s attention to the ongoing crackdown on political dissent in China.

28 July 2020

China: Hong Kong opposition candidates for LegCo election vetted

(dql) Opposition candidates were facing a vetting procedure testing their eligibility to run in the Legislative Council (LegCo) election in September and requiring them to answer questions about their political stance related to recent and current domestic and international politics on Hong Kong. The questions covered – among other issues – whether they recognize Beijing’s overall constitutional responsibility for Hong Kong and the new national security law for Hong Kong as well as whether they had lobbied and would further support actions and sanctions against Hong Kong imposed by foreign countries. [South China Morning Post]

Among them was prominent pro-democracy activist and founder of the now-disbanded political party Demosisto Joshua Wong who in a tweet called the vetting an “ideology scrutiny” and “large-scale witch hunt,” in which “electoral officers are cooking up #nationalsecurity charges against all pro-democracy runners, not solely vetting our candidacy.” [Hong Kong Free Press]

Wong’s statement expresses a widespread fear among the opposition candidates that the vetting is part of a deliberate move to disqualify the candidates, especially on grounds of collusion with foreign countries and forces to endanger national security, one of the four crimes targeted by the new Hong Kong national security law. [Bloomberg Quint] [Japan Times]

Meanwhile, rising numbers of Covid-19 cases have triggered a discussion on whether or not to postpone the election in which the opposition is hoping to win for the first time the majority based on the landslide victory in the district elections last November when in won 17 of the 18 districts. While the pro-Beijing camp supports a postponement citing public health concerns, the pro-democracy camp rejected such an attempt to undermine the opposition’s current political momentum. [Asia Times] [The Straits Time]

 

 

21 July 2020

Philippines and China easing tensions, superpowers´ ties deteriorate

(mp) The Philippines and China held a one-hour phone conference on Tuesday to reaffirm their friendly bilateral relationship and to promote cooperation despite contentious maritime issues and rising tensions, after Washington had called Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea “completely unlawful.” China in response accused the US of militarizing the territory, provoking conflict, and causing instability.

Manila further called a four-year-old ruling by a court in The Hague, which China has never recognized, a “milestone” and “non-negotiable” for the international order and reaffirmed its importance. Beijing invited the Philippines to jointly secure peace and stability in the South China Sea by bilateral talks. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In a related development, the US Ambassador to the Philippines in a lengthy statement expressed his country´s support for Manila, proposed a deeper partnership, and thereby referred to the area as the “West Philippine Sea.” This term, which also includes zones disputed by Beijing, and has mainly been used by Manila, was regarded as highly provocative towards China. Consequently, his Chinese counterpart, Ambassador Huang, urgently warned Southeast Asian countries about Washington´s efforts to enter the South China Sea disputes and subsequently interfere with the region´s political stability. [South China Morning Post]

21 July 2020

Vietnam reacts to hardened US stance on South China Sea dispute

(jn) Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry welcomed any views in accordance with international law on the South China Sea, and that “respecting the legal order at the sea and implementing [the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] in full and with good faith” was crucial. The statement came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told reporters that the US would support countries around the globe which believe their legal territorial or maritime claims were violated by China, though the US would do so by pursuing diplomatic means, such as in multilateral bodies like ASEAN. [South China Morning Post]

Despite the rhetoric, Beijing is seen as carefully navigating its relationship with Vietnam for the moment instead of reciprocating in kind.

The Deputy Foreign Ministers of China and Vietnam held a video meeting in their respective functions as General Secretaries of the Steering Committee for Vietnam-China Bilateral Cooperation last Thursday, discussing the South China Sea dispute among other things. Details of the conversation were not provided. In the same week, the Chinese-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) announced that it would lend $100 million to a Vietnamese bank to prop up its lending to private businesses suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, Vietnam appears to have cancelled a contract with an oil rig off its coast near the Vanguard Bank, a reef near the Spratly Islands within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and payed compensation to the parent company. One year ago, the Vanguard Bank became the place where Chinese and Vietnamese coast guard ships met in a tense and prolonged stand-off (see AiR No. 29, July/2019, 3). Hanoi did not publicly comment on rescinding the contract, but it comes at a time when China has increased its incursions into Vietnamese waters, deploying a China Coast Guard vessel to the Vanguard Bank last recently and a survey vessel into Vietnam’s EEZ in June.

According to experts, Vietnam may feel emboldened by the vocal and assertive US positioning and increasing US military presence in the region. Even though the Chinese and Vietnamese economies are very much intertwined with Vietnam having a significant trade deficit, the South China Sea dispute is the decisive factor for the country’s geopolitical alignment against China (see also last week’s AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2). [South China Morning Post 2] [Nhan Dan] [Radio Free Asia]

21 July 2020

Chinese embassy in Myanmar attacks US for its criticism of China’s regional striving for power

(jn) China’s embassy in Myanmar claimed on Sunday that the US was “outrageously smearing” the country and of driving a wedge between China and other Southeast Asian nations over the South China Sea dispute and Hong Kong. The US showed a “selfish, hypocritical, contemptible, and ugly face” in an attempt to “shift the attention on domestic problems and seek selfish political gains”.

The US embassy in Yangon had decried China’s “unprecedented campaign to undermine the sovereignty of ASEAN countries in the South China Sea” as part of a “larger pattern to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors”. Further, it compared China’s behavior in the South China Sea and Hong Kong to large-scale Chinese investments projects in Myanmar that mostly benefit China and could become debt-traps, but also pointed to Chinese responsibility for drug and human trafficking as well as environmental destruction in Myanmar: “This is how modern sovereignty is often lost – not through dramatic, overt action, but through a cascade of smaller ones that lead to its slow erosion over time,” the embassy asserted.

Despite its relative economic insignificance, Myanmar has become another strategic theater where China is eyeing access to the Bay of Bengal and is flexing its mighty economic muscles (see e.g. AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5). [Reuters in Channel News Asia][US Embassy Op-Ed]

21 July 2020

Pakistan: Tensions in Balochistan as partnership with China and Iran grows

(ls/lf) Last week, eight soldiers were killed in an attack in Pakistan’s Balochistan province which belongs to the cultural-geographic region of Balochistan inhabited by the Baloch people and comprising parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. No group has claimed the attack in the Pakistani province yet. The long-ongoing conflict has been growing tense over recent months which might partly be due to China’s increasing activities in the region, which is rich in resources, including copper, gas and gold.

Benefits from most of the investments may not make their way towards the Baloch population, however and may also have stirred up additional resentments against the federal government in Islamabad. Separatist groups have increasingly targeted Chinese construction sites. Last month’s attack on the stock exchange in Karachi by Baloch militants has shed additional light on a long insurgence struggle that involve a number of external players. [Al Jazeera] [Reuters]

At the same time, China and Iran are currently negotiating a major military and trade agreement that is likely to take place within the framework of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Iran’s closer partnership with China means that Pakistan may involve Iran in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which is part of the BRI, and thus have a better chance to protect its security interests in Balochistan. It appears possible that Pakistan, China and Iran may form a joint military force for intelligence-sharing and to carry out targeted operations against militants that use the Pakistan-Iran border to destabilize the region. [The Diplomat]

21 July 2020

Japan: Heightened of territorial conflicts with China

(mp) Territorial conflicts between China and Japan in the East China Sea are aggravating after Chinese ships´ activities in the area have been increasing. In June, Chinese Coast Guard vessels intruded into Japanese waters for over 39 hours, which is the longest period after Tokyo gained state control over the islands in 2012.

Subsequently, a Chinese research ship operated in a Japan-claimed zone near the country´s southernmost point for several days, ignoring Tokyo´s appeals to cease activities. While survey ships are required to seek permission before entering a foreign zone, the Chinese government declared Oktinotori was not an island but rocks; therefore, Japan´s claim lacked a legal basis and the research activities were in line with international law.

In early July, China protested about the “trespassing” of Japanese fishing boats into their territorial waters near to the disputed Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu. Japan immediately rejected the Chinese complaint, which presumably intended to strengthen China´s sovereignty claims. Just last month, the city assembly of Ishigaki had passed a resolution to change a southern area´s name to “Tonoshiro Senkaku,” aiming to strengthen Japan´s claim over the island. This again was followed by Beijing assigning Chinese names to nearby seabed zones. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Kyodo News 1]

Moreover, Japan announced to instantly send out fighter jets against all Chinese aircraft taking off from their base in Fujian province, not only those which intrude Japan´s air space. This measure is necessary as Beijing moved its airbase, which is now located only 380 kilometers away from the disputed Senkaku islands. In 2019, Japan intercepted Chinese military aircraft for 675 times. [Kyodo News 2]

21 July 2020

China-UK relations: Tensions rising over Huawei and Hong Kong

(dql) The United Kingdom announced a ban of Huawei from its 5G networks. The ban requires British telecoms operators to remove all of Huawei’s components from their 5G mobile infrastructure by 2027, and are prohibited from buying Huawei’s products from January 2021.

The move is a major turnaround of London, which only in January decided to allow restricted access to the country’s 5G networks, and makes the UK the second countries among the “Five Eyes” allies after Australia to follow Washington’ call to ban Huawei. New Zealand and Canada so far have not taken such a move.   

China expressed its strong opposition to the UK’s “groundless” ban of Huawei’s 5G kit and vowed “to “safeguard” Chinese companies’ “legitimate interests.” [CNBC] [BBC]

US Secretary of State Pompeo, meanwhile, welcomed London’s decision and announced that the USA will expand its campaign against Huawei to restrict US visas for the companies’ employees. [The Guardian]

In another move angering China, the UK on Monday announced that it will “immediately and indefinitely” suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extend its arms embargo on China to Hong Kong. [CNN]

In an earlier move, Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered millions of Hongkongers, eligible for the British national overseas status (BNO), residency in the UK. [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1]

21 July 2020

China, Russia agree on opposing US unilateralism 

(dql) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in a telephone talk week agreed to reject US unilateralism, with the former harshly criticizing the USA for its “‘America first’ policy, pushing egoism, unilateralism and bullying to the limit”, adding that Washington has “lost its mind, morals and credibility,” while the latter added that the USA “has always believed in the American exceptionalism and egotism, and it has recently stripped off its pretence and threatened or wielded sanctions against others.”

The statements send a strong message to the USA that China and Russia are further closing their ranks against the USA. [South China Morning Post]

21 July 2020

China: University fires regime-critical professor

(dql) In a latest case of increasing censorship and restrictions on academic freedoms in China, a prominent Chinese university professor known for his open and repeated critic of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party’s rule has been sacked by Tsinghua University, where he has been teaching law. He had been suspended and under investigation since spring last year after publishing an article which criticized the power concentration in Xi’s hands and the crackdown on dissent. [WION]

Meanwhile, to express his protest against censorship in China during the Covid-19 outbreak, a Chinese artist kept silent for a month by shutting his mouth with various article of daily use including a packing tape captioned with “404”, the error code for a webpage not found. [Reuters]

21 July 2020

China-USA relations: Tensions over Hong Kong and Xinjiang

(dql) Further worsening already-strained Sino-US relations, President Trump – in response to Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law for Hong Kong – last week signed into law the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which allows for sanctions against foreign individuals or institutions which the United States hold responsible for contributing to the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, and also signed an executive order which ends US preferential treatment for the city. [South China Morning Post

China was quick to hit back and announced retaliatory sanctions against U.S. individuals and entities, adding that “Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs and no foreign country has the right to interfere.” [CNN]

In a related development, the U.S. Commerce Department added 11 Chinese companies to the US economic blacklist which are believed to be implicated in using forced labor by Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in China’s western Xinjiang region. The listing prevents the firms from purchasing components from U.S. companies without U.S. government approval.  

In response, China accused the USA of oppressing Chinese companies and of slandering its Xinjiang policy. [Reuters]

21 July 2020

China: Pro-democracy Hong Kong localists on confrontational course with Beijing ahead of LegCo election

(dql) A number of opposition candidates running for the Legislative Council (LegCo) election in September refused to sign the Hong Kong allegiance form when registering for the polls on Monday. Article 104 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law stipulates that LegCo members must swear to “uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, bear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and serve the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region conscientiously, dutifully, in full accordance with the law, honestly and with integrity.” [Government, Hong Kong]

In the light of the new security law for Hong Kong – which has been in force since 30 June and which tightens Beijing’s grip on the city – the move reflects the candidates’ upholding of a confrontational stance towards the city’s government and Beijing. Leading pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong said that his refusal to sign the allegiance form was to “let the world to know how we choose not to surrender, how we choose not to kowtow to China,” and “that we will continue to fight until our last breath.” [Deutsche Welle

The move comes shortly after localist candidates pledging a confrontational approach towards the city government and Beijing emerged stronger from the recent primaries of the opposition [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2] than candidates from traditional pan-democratic parties with a more moderate stance. This outcome of the primary vote reflects a political radicalization of parts within the opposition raising concerns over disunity within the opposition and over to an expected hard-line response of Beijing.  [South China Morning Post] [Hong Kong Free Press]

In an early sign of such a response, Beijing announced that the primaries were illegal and a breach of the new security law and attacked primary organizer and long-time activist Benny Tai calling him a “arch criminal […] who creates the chaos in Hong Kong and brings disaster to Hong Kong and its people” and accusing him of “unlawfully distorting Hong Kong’s election system”, “provoking the new national security law” as well as “being a political agent in Hong Kong for foreign countries and foreign forces.” Meanwhile, the city government announced to investigate whether the primary election constitutes the crime of subversion under the new security law. [Hong Kong Macau Office, China, in Chinese] [Quartz]

In a related development, another core organizer of the primaries resigned from his organizing duties bowing to the pressure stemming from Beijing’s and the government’s statements and announcements. [Straits Times]

14 July 2020

India asks court to stymie potential challenge to Chinese app ban

(lm) India’s government filed a caveat at the State Court of Rajasthan to prevent a ruling in favour of the Chinese companies whose apps it recently outlawed. While none of the companies has hitherto mounted legal action, the filing suggests that New Delhi expects one or more of them to attempt to obtain an injunction to block the order. [Reuters] [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5]

14 July 2020

Cambodia on track to several new bilateral free trade agreements

(jn) Cambodia is on the verge of either initiating or concluding talks on bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) with three Asian nations:

China 

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is scheduled to sign an FTA in Beijing on 12 August. The FTA is expected to further deepen relations between Cambodia and China, boosting agricultural trade and building on existing trade ties.

The deal can be seen as another sign of the intensifying relationship with China that has become the Kingdom’s largest investor and its geopolitical backer in contrast to the West and sometimes even ASEAN.

According to government figures, bilateral trade in 2018 was around $7.4 billion and heavily skewed towards China that accounted for more than 80 percent of trade. Cambodia exported around $800 million, mostly in agricultural products, and imported large quantities of raw materials for the manufacturing and construction sectors.

This FTA is Cambodia’s first bilateral trade agreement with a foreign country and was negotiated against the backdrop of growing Chinese influence and investments in Cambodia’s economy. It has thus sparked not only concerns about China bear-hugging Cambodia and benefiting disproportionately, but also that it would do nothing to raise labor and environmental standards.

At the same time, on said 12 August when the FTA with China is expected to be signed, Cambodia is likely to see its long-standing ties with the European Union further decline with the expected partial suspension of the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade privileges. In a press release in February, the European Commission announced that it had decided to withdraw part of the tariff preferences granted to Cambodia under the EU’s EBA trade scheme due to the serious and systematic violations of human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The withdrawal and replacement with the EU’s standard tariffs (“Most Favored Nation”) will affect selected garment and footwear products, travel goods and sugar. The goods in question amount to about one-fifth or €1 billion of annual exports to the EU. The new tariff regime will take effect unless the European Parliament or the Council object.

Phnom Penh hopes that the FTA with China will help offset losses incurred from the partial suspension of the EBA. [VOA][EC Press Corner]

India 

The Cambodian Minister of Commerce said that in a meeting with the Indian ambassador to Cambodia on Wednesday they had discussed the possibility of concluding a Cambodia-India bilateral FTA. They had agreed to strengthen bilateral trade relations by establishing a Cambodia-India Joint Trade and Investment Working Group to facilitate trade and investment between the two states.

According to data from the Indian embassy in Cambodia, the trade volume between the two countries reached almost $250 million in 2019, up by more than 10 per cent compared to 2018. Cambodia exported goods to India worth about $80 million last year, up about 70 per cent from 2018, while imports amounted to almost $170 million, down 5.8 per cent. India invests almost $20 million annually, being among the top ten foreign investors in Cambodia. [The Star]

South Korea

Cambodia and South Korea agreed last Thursday to start official negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), with a first round of talks expected later this month. 

A statement by the South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy said that amid the spread of Covid-19 it had become more important for South Korea to expand cooperation with Southeast Asian countries. He said that FTA negotiations with Cambodia could potentially make it a future hub of production and trade among the ASEAN nations. The two countries would make efforts to come up with a meaningful result within this year.

The countries’ bilateral trade volume was at $1 billion last year, a six per cent annual growth since 2018, according to the Korea International Trade Association. Cambodia exported $336 million worth of goods to South Korea last year and had imports as high as $700 million. [Phnom Penh Post]

14 July 2020

Indonesia seizes Chinese fishing ship over alleged maltreatment of Indonesian fisherman on board

On Wednesday last week, Indonesian authorities seized a Chinese fishing vessel over suspicions of mistreatment of Indonesian fishermen. On board, they found a dead sailor in a freezer. In May, reports surfaced that at least three bodies of Indonesian sailors had been thrown from Chinese boats into the Pacific Ocean in recent months, while the overall number of deceased is allegedly higher. Indonesia’s foreign ministry has demanded China to disclose the facts of the cases. [Nikkei Asian Review]

14 July 2020

Sri Lanka reviews Colombo Port Deal amidst rising tensions between India and China

(lf) President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has recently issued examinations and reports from five designated committee members, within 45 days, that lays out maximum benefits towards Sri Lanka in regards to the East Container Terminal (ECT) at Colombo Port. The development of the ECT is an agreement between Japan, India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka wants guarantee of full control of the facility. The port customarily “handles more than 7 million twenty-foot equivalent units of cargo annually”.

Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s government is additionally reviewing an existing port deal that was signed between India and the Sirisena Government in the past. This could potentially hinder India relations as Sri Lanka is amidst the China and India tensions. Sri Lanka is currently under debt to China. Especially since China assisted Sri Lanka in many financial crises, one of them being COVID-19. [Nikkei Asia Review] [SCMP]

14 July 2020

China expands scope of border disputes, stoking another with neighbouring Bhutan

(lm) Earlier this month, the Chinese government for the first time publicly put on record that is has a border dispute with Bhutan over the country`s eastern sector saying to a newspaper that “[t]here have been disputes over the eastern, central and western sectors for a long time”. In a tangential reference to India, the Foreign Ministry added that “a third party should not point fingers” in the Sino-Bhutan border dispute. [Hindustan Times] [The Straits Times]

Beijing`s assertion follows attempts at a virtual meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in late June to stop the funding for the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) in eastern Bhutan’s Trashigang district, claiming that the location was “disputed”. Bhutan objected to the claim over the sanctuary, issuing a demarche to Beijing’s embassy in New Delhi. The Global Environmental Facility council later passed the project for funding. [The Hindu 1]

Between 1984 and 2016, Bhutan and China have held 24 rounds of talks to resolve their border dispute. According to discussions in the Bhutanese parliament and other public records of these meetings, the discussions hitherto have only been limited to three areas of dispute in the western and central sections of the boundary. Talks have been frozen, however, since the last round in 2016, partly due to the heightened tensions that erupted during the 2017 Doklam standoff. Back then, India supported Bhutan’s claims as the area is also strategically close to India’s Silliguri Corridor, a narrow stretch of land that connects the country’s north-east to the mainland. The issue ended inconclusively when both India and China agreed to withdraw from the plateau in August 2017. [AiR 29. December 2017]

Observers believe the addition of the eastern sector to be not so much a contest over territory as it is of Beijing’s desire to punish Bhutan for allying with its regional rival India. China seems determined to complicate the special relationship between India and Bhutan by creating a wedge between the two South Asian neighbours. In late June, India and Bhutan signed a pact for their first-ever joint venture hydropower project. [The Diplomat] [The Hindu 2]

As the wildlife sanctuary borders the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety as part of “south Tibet”, the development will likely be seen as coercive by India. Partly in response to China`s new claims on the eastern region, New Delhi last week already dusted off proposals over the construction of a road that would allow India to mobilise its troops across the disputed boundary with Beijing in Arunachal Pradesh, but also towards the eastern region of Bhutan. [Deccan Herald] [The Economic Times]

14 July 2020

China-USA relations: High tensions continue unabated

(dql/ef) High running tensions between China and the USA continued unabated last week. 

The USA announced sanctions against Chinese politicians considered by Washington to be responsible for human rights violations against Muslim minorities in China’s western province Xinjiang. The sanctions include visa restrictions preventing them from entering the USA, freezing their assets in the USA, and making it a crime to conduct financial transactions with them. Among those hit by the sanctions is Xinjiang Communist Party boss and Member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party Chen Quanguo. Chen, widely seen as mastermind of Beijing’s Xinjiang minority policies, is the highest-ranking Chinese official ever to be targeted by the sanctions. [BBC]

China retaliated with similar sanctions against US officials, including Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who both sponsored China- and Xinjiang-critical legislation. [The National]

In a another confrontational move, US Secretary of State Pompeo declared most of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea “completely unlawful”, adding that “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law […],” to “reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.” 

Pompeo’s announcement on Monday – almost exact four years after the ruling of Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the South China Sea Arbitration invalidated most of China’s claims for maritime rights in the South China Sea – signals Washington’s hardening stance compared with previous calls for a peaceful resolution to the dispute through arbitration backed by the United Nations. It is also reflected in the recently intensified presence and actions of the US military in the South China Sea. [Al Jazeera] [CNN] [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1]

China was quick to hit back and accused the USA of “stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region.” [Breaking News]

Further angering China, the USA approved a 620 million USD missile upgrade package for Taiwan that entails surface-to-air-missiles produced by US arms technology manufacturer Lockheed Martin. In a thinly veiled allusion to China as the target of the deal, the US Department of Defense commented on the deal by stating that “the recipient will use this capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen homeland defence”. The Taiwanese Ministry of Defence expects the sale to be completed in August. This marks the seventh US-Taiwanese arms deal since 2017; by now most of the Taiwanese military hardware is US-made. [New York Times

In response to the arms sale, China reiterated its strong objections to arms sales to Taiwan and announced sanctions against Lockheed Martin as main contractor of the deal. [Reuters]

Further signalling Washington’s push to improve relations with Taiwan, USA State Secretary Pompeo reiterated the disappointment of the USA over Taiwan’s exclusion from the Word Health Organization (WHO), calling it an example of the deficiencies of the agency. However, the Trump administration notification to the Congress and the United Nations that the USA, the biggest contributor the WHO’s budget, is formally withdrawing from the body, with withdrawal becoming effect next July. [Focus Taiwan] [VoA]

While China has been persistently blocking Taipei’s efforts to join the agency, the WHO has been facing critcism for being China-centred in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

14 July 2020

China: Human rights lawyer seeks reversal of subversion verdict

(dql) In a rare move, prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was released in April after spending almost five years behind bars for subverting state power [AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1], has filed a petition with the Chinese judiciary to request the overturning of his guilty verdict of subversion against the state. He also filed complaints against individual police and court officials accusing them of wrongfully trying, defaming and torturing him. [RTL]

Wang, who defended political campaigners and victims of land seizures, as well as followers of the banned spiritual Falun Gong movement, was detained along with more than 200 other human rights lawyers and activist in a crackdown in July 2015.

14 July 2020

China: Pilot scheme for new anti-corruption campaign kicks off

(dql) Last week, China has launched a new “education and rectification” campaign that aims to get rid of “corrupt elements” in the country’s police and other security bodies as well as the judiciary and to purge “two-faced” officials believed to only pay lip service to the Chinese Communist Party’s rules and orders. 

The campaign, led by the Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission – China’s top law enforcement agency –, kicks off with a three-month pilot scheme covering five cities and four counties in five provinces. It will expand nationwide next year and end in the first quarter of 2022, coinciding with the expected end of Xi Jinping’s term as party leader. 

The move signals another effort of the Chinese leadership to further strengthen its control over political and social stability amid uncertainties rising from the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout. It comes only a few days after the creation of another new law enforcement agency: a special task force in charge of handling threats to the country’s political stability, including “subversive activities, terrorist acts, ethnic secession and religious extremism in accordance with the law.” [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1]

For a comparison between this campaign and the so-called Yan’an Rectification Campaign from 1942-1944 under Mao Zedong to which the Commission’s Secretary General referred when he announced the new campaign and in which according to scholars more than 10000 had been executed, see Massimo Introvigne at [Bitter Winter].

Meanwhile, the US FBI director accused China of using “Fox Hunt” – an anti-corruption campaign targeting overseas Chinese launched in 2014 – as a tool to chase and ‘bring home’ Chinese nationals considered as threats to the party’s rule, including  “political rivals, dissidents, and critics seeking to expose China’s extensive human rights violations.” [VoA]

14 July 2020

China: Massive turnout at primaries of Hong Kong’s opposition parties

(dql) Defying government warnings of breaking the new security law for Hong Kong and sending a strong message to the city’s government and authorities in Beijing, more than 600.000 Hongkongers cast their ballots at the primaries of Hong Kong’s opposition parties, which were held at the weekend to determine the opposition’s candidates for the upcoming elections to the Legislative Council (LegCo), Hong Kong’s parliament, in September, in which the opposition hopes to win for the first the majority in the 70-members chamber. Preliminary results indicate that candidates from the traditional opposition parties suffered a defeat against localist challengers. 

While the primaries were celebrated among the candidates and organizers, as the turnout of the electorate represented 35% of those who supported the opposition camp in the district council elections last year in which the opposition won 17 out of 18 districts, they were strongly rejected by the Hong Kong’s government as well as by Beijing. Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned that it could be considered subversion to seek a majority in the LegCo with the aim to vote down initiatives and policy proposals of the government, as candidates and organizers had expressed at the primaries. Meanwhile, China’s liaison office in Hong Kong described the vote as “illegal” adding that it “seriously damages the fairness and impartiality of the Legislative Council Election, and seriously harms to the legal rights and interests of other candidates.” [South China Morning Post] [Hong Kong Free Press]

In an earlier move, China’s central government last Wednesday – a week after the national security law for Hong Kong had come into force – officially opened its national security agency in Hong Kong. The Office for Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is an integral part of the new security legislation aimed to secure and cement Beijing’s grip on Hong Kong. The move places, for the first time, mainland Chinese agents in Hong Kong who hold enforcement powers and operate without being subject to control of the HKSAR city administration. [Reuters] [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1]

14 July 2020

UN report on repressive COVID-19 responses: China, India, Cambodia, and Myanmar singled out as Asian examples for crackdown on free speech

(jn) The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, voiced serious concerns over new state measures restricting and punishing the free flow of information globally while presenting his latest report on freedom of expression and disease pandemics to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Many states had used the pandemic as a front to crack down on journalism and silence criticism. 

According to the Special Rapporteur states should address the following five challenges: 

  • “Reinforce access to information and share as much as possible about the course of the disease and the tools people should use to protect themselves and their communities. 
  • End the practice of internet shutdowns and other limitations on access to the internet.
  • Refrain from all attacks on the media and release all journalists detained, […].
  • Do not treat the so-called infodemic as a problem that criminalisation will solve. […].
  • Ensure that any public health surveillance measures are consistent with fundamental legal standards of necessity and proportionality and are transparent, non-discriminatory, limited in duration and scope, subject to oversight, and never be used to criminalise individuals.”

Cambodia’s mission to the UN in Geneva immediately denounced the Kingdom’s mention as misleading and faulty. It said that Kaye failed to recognize that the government was simply intensifying its efforts in containing disinformation and fake news amid the pandemic. [Phnom Penh Post]

Find a press release on the report here and [OHCHR] and the full report under [United Nations

The Special Rapporteurs are the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system and part of the Special Procedures off the Human Rights Council which is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For an interview with David Kaye on “COVID-19 and freedom of expression” see [Just Security].  

14 July 2020

Construction of largest railway station of Laos-China railway to begin

(dql) The construction of the Vientiane railway station, the largest railway station of the Laos-China railway, a strategic project under the Belt and Road Initiative, is set to start this week in the capital city of Laos. The station with more than 14.500 square-meter is one of 20 new stations that have been constructed for 6 billion USD 414 kilometre-long rail construction project. It is expected to be operational be end of 2021. [Construction Review

14 July 2020

Correction:

In the entry on “Thailand-China relations to be deepened” in last week’s issue Taiwan was wrongly put in the text instead of Thailand. 

7 July 2020

Thailand-China relations to be deepened

(dql) On the occasion of the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relation between China and Taiwan, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha compared the relationship between both countries with those of a family. Li, furthermore, hailed Sino-Thai relations a model for China-ASEAN relations and vowed to further advance both countries’ ties, while Prayut responded with a pledge to closer coordination between the two governments. [Thai PBS]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Vietnam sends diplomatic protest note to China over navy drills

(jn) Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry has lodged a protest note with China to complain about the recent military drills in the South China Sea. Speaking at a regular briefing, the spokeswoman explained the step, saying that the drills would “seriously violate Vietnam’s sovereignty” and would “further complicate the situation”, as they “are detrimental to the relationship between China and ASEAN.” Having delivered the diplomatic note, Vietnam would now ask China to refrain from repeating similar actions in the South China Sea. The Philippines had also criticized the drills which like Vietnam lays claim to parts of the South China Sea according to the concept of Exclusive Economic Zones under to international maritime law. [Straits Times] [SCMP]

China had scheduled the exercises in waters near the Paracel Islands for five days starting last Wednesday. It asserts historical rights to over 80% of the South China Sea. As a sign of increasing geopolitical tensions, Chinese vessels harassed Vietnamese fishing boats in June and April, and in the earlier case sunk one of them [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] [AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1]. China had called Vietnam’s maritime claims illegal and “doomed to fail.”

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

China’s continued involvement in Nepali politics to support the beleaguered prime minister

(ls) As the political pressure on Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli from within his party grows, China appears to get involved in the country’s domestic politics another time. China’s ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi, met with President Bidya Bhandari and a senior politician heading the foreign relations department of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The meetings took place without the involvement of the foreign ministry, which is unusual. Analysts believe that Hou is engaged in efforts to bolster the position of the beleaguered prime minister as she allegedly already did in April and May at the height of political pressure against Oli. Back then, she met with Oli himself and the NCP’s chairman. [Hindustan Times 1] [Republic World]

Oli has come under increasing attacks from within his own party over his pronounced anti-Indian stance. In recent weeks, the Nepali government published a map that included territories that are disputed with India. Moreover, six new border outposts along the border with India had been set up. Two of these have now been withdrawn in what appears to be a move to appease Oli’s critics. China and India are currently in heightened border tensions in the Himalayas. [Hindustan Times 2]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Pakistan and China extend economic relations

(lf) While India and China clash over their border disputes in the Himalayas, Pakistan and China have signed another deal over a hydropower project in Pakistan-administrated Kashmir, which will be a key part in the Sino-Pakistan economic corridor, forming part of the Belt and Road Initiative. The hydropower plant is the second major infrastructure project financed by China in the area this year. 

India has said that no major infrastructure projects should be undertaken in the disputed area and that the new deal undermines that. This aspect might lead to further escalation in an already tense situation. [Nikkei Asian Review]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

India-China standoff: Economic consequences

(lf/ls) After India banned 59 Chinese apps last week, the first consequences are becoming visible. Not only will the Chinese-owned company which operates TikTok see losses up to $6 billion as India is one of the biggest markets for the app, with double the downloads in a recent month than the US. The ban has also already taken a direct effect on millions of Indian content creators who are unable to use the app, some of which used TikTok to generate income. 

The apps were banned under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act 2000. This allows the blocking to protect the security of the state, the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order. The decision to block is an executive procedure. A review committee can be called for appeal. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled the Section constitutional and clarified that blocking orders can be challenged in India’s High Courts. [The Print]

The ban sets a possible precedence for other countries to follow. US American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the ban. Experts fear a separation of the internet into national units and a limit of the freedom of the Internet, consequently. [Wired] [Forbes]

The deadly clash between India and China which resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers has resulted in Indian calls to ban trade with China. Trade frictions can already be felt in India as imports from China undergo strict checks at Indian ports. A complete trade ban, however, seems unfeasible. The two nations are close trading partners and China is India’s biggest importer. A trade war between the countries would be costly for both countries, especially since the respective national economies are already experiencing a slowing in growth due to the economic crisis produced by Covid19. [Deutsche Welle] [Straits Times]

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

India-China standoff: China pulls back troops as Modi visits the region 

(lf/ls) Since tensions between India and China at the Line of Actual Control in disputed Ladakh had resulted in the deadliest clashes in decades, China has apparently begun to move troops away from the Galwan Valley. The Chinese foreign ministry stated that it hoped to ease the tensions with this move and meet India halfway in negotiations. After weeks of tight tensions between the two countries, this is the first sign of an easing. Both sides have agreed that the disengagement process should be done “expeditiously”. [Aljazeera] [Straits Times]

On Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to the Himalayan border region and met with troops, including soldiers who had been wounded in the clash. He said, “this is the age of development. Whenever a country has been consumed by expansionism, it has posed a threat to humanity and has destroyed the world. History is a witness that expansionist forces either lose or turn back.” [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, new details of the incident have emerged from Reuters journalists’ interviews with relatives of some of the 20 Indian soldiers who died in the latest clash in June. The brutalities described there, however, raise even more questions about the intentions and goals pursued on both sides. China and India continue to blame each other for the incident. [Reuters]

For reflections of the current India-China tensions at the United Nations see Devirupa Mitra at [The Wire] who describes India’s strategic behavior vis-à-vis the West and China in the context of the compilation of the Declaration of Commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th anniversary, where India joined the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand in successfully rejecting a version of the declaration which contained the words ‘’shared vision for a common future”, a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s concept of the global order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Japan: Ruling party urges government to cancel Xi´s state visit

(mp) In response to the new security law which Beijing imposed over Hong Kong, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan published a resolution urging the government to cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping´s upcoming state visit. The resolution criticizes the implementation of the security bill and subsequent mass arrests against protesters and further called Japan to assist Hong Kong residents wishing to leave by providing necessary visas.

China instantly responded to the resolution, refusing foreign interference in internal affairs and claiming “anti-Chinese performances” had “no meaning” to China. [Mainichi Japan]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

China-UK relations: Tensions high over Hong Kong

(dql) Sino-British relations continue to be strained over Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong. In response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to offer millions of Hongkongers, eligible for the British national overseas status (BNO), residency in the UK, China denounced the pledge as  “irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong affairs” and “gross interference in China’s internal affairs” and promised to retaliate with countermeasures should London go ahead with this pledge. [Deutsche Welle ][The Guardian]

Further complicating the situation is Boris Johnson’s statement on Huawei saying that “Britain was concerned about security around ‘hostile state vendors’”, prompting China’s rebuke warning the UK that “[if] you want to make China a hostile country, you will have to bear the consequences.” [Financial Times]

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

Cross-strait relations: Chinese war planes fly again over Taiwan

(ef) After the People’s Liberation Army of China announced last week that it would conduct a five-day military exercise in the South China Sea, a Chinese military aircraft entered Taiwan’s southwest air defence identification zone. The aircraft was chased off by Taiwanese patrol planes. This incident marks the 10th time since July 9 that Chinese military planes entered Taiwan’s airspace. [Focus Taiwan]

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

China joins Arms Trade Treaty amid continued tensions with the USA over South China Sea and Taiwan

(dql/ef) China on Monday formally joined the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty, becoming the 107th country to enter into the multilateral treaty which regulates the international trade in conventional weapons and which the USA spurned last year. Referencing this move, China’s permanent representative at the UN criticized in a statement at the UN that a “[c]ertain country has quit multilateral arms control agreements and international treaties and organizations in succession, walked away from international commitments, and launched acts of unilateralism and bullying.” [AA]

The USA, meanwhile, were flexing military muscles amid high running tensions between China and the USA over the South China Sea, when two US aircraft carriers – the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz –, joined by a B 52 bomber, carried out military exercises in the South China Sea over the weekend. The exercises were conducted at the same time when China was completing its own naval exercises in the disputed region. While Washington reassured that the drills were “an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we [the US] are committed to regional security and stability”, Beijing denounced the move as “totally out of ulterior motives” and criticized it for its destabilizing effect for the region. [The Dipomat] [Stars and Stripes][Time]

Meanwhile, a draft of the Taiwan Defense Act was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives, a month after the same bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate. The bill reassures that Taiwan is “a steadfast partner of the United States in the common pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific region […]” and aims at ensuring the U.S. to meets its obligations towards Taiwan according to the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979 by requiring the US Department of Defense to take measure to guarantee that Taiwan will be able to thwart a Chinese invasion, in particular a “fait accompli” against Taiwan.

The TRA itself aims at making sure that the USA and Taiwan continue substantial de-facto diplomatic and economic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan. It contains also a pledge to provide Taiwan with sufficient defense weapons and services to enable self-defense. [Focus Taiwan] [Senator Hawley, who introduced the bill to the Senate for the text of the bill]

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

China: New political security task force launched

(dql) China’s Communist Party has established a special task force in an attempt to strengthen political security in the country and shield the party’s uncontested rule against “subversive activities, terrorist acts, ethnic secession and religious extremism in accordance with the law.” 

Analysts view the launching of the task force as a measure to improve and fine-tune inter-agency coordination on political security in the face of both domestic and international fierce criticism of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. [South China Morning Post]

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

China: Uighur activist group demand ICC’s prosecution President Xi

(dql) Exiled Uighur activist groups have submitted evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and called upon the court to prosecute over 30 Chinese officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, over charge on genocide and crimes against humanity. [WION]

China, however, is not a signatory of the Rome Statute so that the ICC does not have jurisdiction of cases filed against China.

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

China: Government critic detained

(dql) Security officers on Monday raided the residence of Xu Zhangrun, Chinese professor for constitutional theory and Western philosophy and outspoken critic of President Xi Jinping, to confiscate his computer and other personal items and to arrest him afterwards. 

Xu has been under house arrest since early this year for repeated public criticism on the Chinese leadership. [The Guardian][AiR No. 7, February/2020, 3]

 

 

 

 

 

7 July 2020

China: Beijing’s grip on Hong Kong cemented

(dql) The new National Security Law for Hong Kong, which was enacted on Tuesday last week [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5] and came into effect on the same day, marks a major step for the Chinese Communist Party in cementing its grip on power over the country and domestic politics. While targeting and punishing with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment crimes of “secession, subversion, organization and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” in Hong Kong, the new law introduces central government agencies and mechanisms which are placed in Hong Kong and which either override the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong government or are beyond its control. [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief] [New York Times]

Among others, next to the local Committee for Safeguarding National Security which is headed by the city’s chief executive, but supervised by and accountable to Beijing, and which “shall be responsible for affairs relating to and assume primary responsibility for safeguarding national security” in Hong Kong, the law mandates also the creation of a new security agency of the central government, the Office for Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). This Office will be responsible for what Beijing in the run-up to the passing of the law repeatedly called “rare cases” it reserves to handle: “(1) the case is complex due to the involvement of a foreign country or external elements, thus making it difficult for the Region to exercise jurisdiction over the case; (2) a serious situation occurs where the Government of the Region is unable to effectively enforce this Law; or (3) a major and imminent threat to national security has occurred.” This list demonstrates that Beijing wants to takeover control when it comes to ‘complicated cases’, such as those involving foreign forces, an accusation which Beijing repeatedly made against the Hong Kong protests.

These cases will be prosecuted by China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate and put on trial in mainland courts, with PRC law being applied. The Office, furthermore, will be in charge of investigations and intelligence gathering, and its operations will not be subject to control of the HKSAR city administration, but directly reported to Beijing. [Hong Kong Free Press 1, full English translation of the law] [Xinhua, for the law in Chinese]

As head of the Office China has appointed Zheng Yanxiong, so far secretary general of the Communist Party committee in the southern province of Guangdong. He is known as a hardliner who cracked down on protests during a land dispute in the southern Chinese village of Wukan back in 2011 when he blamed Chinese villagers for speaking to “rotten” foreign media. [Reuters]

First tangible effects of the new law followed immediately. During a pro-democracy rally on Wednesday, the day of the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, more than 350 people were arrested, including ten suspected of breaking the new law. The Hong Kong government, meanwhile, announced that the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, displayed during the rally and widely chanted during the anti-government protests last year, violates the law as it connotes Hong Kong’s independence from China. [BBC] [Hong Kong Government]

In another development, books of pro-democracy activists have been removed from the shelves of libraries for review whether they break the new law while schools were ordered by Hong Kong’s Education Bureau to check their stock of books for the same purpose and to remove those which violate the law. [South China Morning Post]

In a latest move, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security this Monday on its first meeting approved regulations to grant the Hong Kong police far-reaching powers as part of the implementation of the new security law. The powers include – among others – raiding premises without a court warrant, ordering internet firms to remove content or seizing equipment, and demanding information from political groups operating outside the city. [Hong Kong Free Press 2]

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 June 2020

Construction of Chinese BRI deep-sea port in Myanmar to start soon

(jn) According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Commerce, preparations are in the final stages for a Chinese-Myanmar joint venture that will establish a deep-sea port in the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Rakhine State. The SEZ is central to the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) which itself is embedded in China’s global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  

The port is envisaged to be a lifeline for the landlocked Chinese province of Yunnan and would give China an alternative connection to the Indian Ocean instead of the Strait of Malacca. The entire project is going to encompass 4300 acres including an industrial zone for the garment sector and several other industries.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar in January, concession and shareholder agreements were signed. But the state-owned Chinese counterpart, the China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC), already struck a shareholder agreement as early as 2015 with the previous Myanmar government in which CITIC was granted an 85% share in the project. 

After it was criticized that this arrangement could lead Myanmar into a debt rap with China, the latter accepted to cede 30% of the shares to Myanmar under a readjusted agreement with the new NLD-government. What is more, the initial investment costs of up to $10 billion were scaled down to $1.5 billion. In February, however, the Ministry of Commerce said that CITIC will own 51% of the industrial zone while the Myanmar government will own 49%. [The Irrawaddy]

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 June 2020

Philippine President Duterte calls ASEAN not to escalate South China Sea dispute

(mp) Echoing ASEAN’s general stance on the South China Sea (see above), also Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called the parties involved in the conflict to exercise self-restraint and respect the rule of law to avoid “escalating tension.” He stressed that the conflict needed to be solved peacefully and in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Duterte, the country coordinator for ASEAN-China dialogues, demanded to work with China closely and to achieve an early conclusion with the other member states to reduce the tensions in the region that have continuously risen. [Inquirer]

 

 

 

 

 

30 June 2020

At summit, ASEAN leaders stress importance of international law for South China Sea dispute 

(jn) Leaders of the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday emphasized the importance of maintaining and promoting “freedom of navigation and overflight” above the South China Sea. The passage in their vision statement is seen as a response to reports of China planning to establish an air defense identification zone (ADIZ), something the country has also not ruled out publicly. The prospect of an ADIZ was not only decried by ASEAN members, but also the US military in the region.

ASEAN members explicitly stressed “the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.” They also agreed to work on “an effective and substantive Code of Conduct” for the South China Sea, a framework that would go further than the 2002 Declaration of Conduct that the ASEAN once agreed on with China.

On Saturday, another ASEAN statement authored by chairing member Vietnam pointed out that the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should be “the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones” in the South China Sea. Such remarks can be seen as a strong repudiation to China’s controversial historical claim to most of the disputed waters, and it is no coincidence that Vietnam as one of the most vocal critics of China’s encroachment was the drafter. As a sign of increasing geopolitical tensions, Chinese vessels harassed Vietnamese fishing boats this month and in April, and in the earlier case sunk one of them [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] [AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1].

The UNCLOS defines certain water areas as exclusive economic zones (EEZ) where coastal states are given the exclusive right to explore and use marine resources. The leaders said in the statement that the “UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out”. 

There was no immediate response from China, but according to AP, Southeast Asian diplomats said that the statement marked a significant strengthening of ASEAN’s assertion of the rule of law in the region. In 2016, the Permanent Court or Arbitration in The Hague had ruled that China’s vast claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis. However, Beijing did not recognize the ruling. 

For a number of different interpretations and evaluation of the ruling see [ISEAS]. Among them is a piece of Clive Schofield who refers to China’s refection of the ruling to point to the fact of “fundamentally opposed, overlapping and contested spatial visions of maritime rights in the SCS” which “sets the scene for ongoing maritime incidents and disputes” with China not giving up its claims of historic rights.  

The ASEAN leaders also dedicated themselves to tackling the economic collateral damage wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic by establishing a regional pandemic fund, building medical supply stockpiles and reasserting the need for open trade links.  

The vision statement reaffirmed the importance of implementing free trade agreements and comprehensive economic partnerships between ASEAN and key economies. It mentioned India as a major trading partner (alongside China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong), although PM Narendra Modi had said last year that India would withdraw from the negotiations to sign up for the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact [see also AiR No.45, November/2019, 1]

The 36th ASEAN Summit themed “Cohesive And Responsive ASEAN: Rising Above Challenges And Sustaining Growth” was convened as a video conference on June 26 under the chair of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post] [South China Morning Post 2] [Radio Free Asia] [Asia Nikkei Review]

 

 

 

 

 

30 June 2020

India bans Chinese-made apps, as tensions with Beijing further deteriorate

(lf/lm) Citing security concerns, the Indian government on Monday announced that it had blacklisted 59 apps, including popular platforms such as the messenger WeChat and the social media platform TikTok. Although the order did not explicitly mention China by name, it is only Chinese-made apps that have been blacklisted. The decision is therefore considered to be part of sweeping anti-China measures, after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the confrontation with Chinese troops along their disputed Himalayan border earlier this month. [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] [The Guardian] [Reuters]

Earlier, the Indian government had already announced plans to impose higher trade barriers and raise import duties on about 300 products from China, as well as entertained the idea to bar Chinese companies from bidding on 5G infrastructure projects in India. Further, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade is preparing a list of low-quality imports from China to be substituted with imports from other countries or manufactured locally, according to government officials. [The Economic Times 1] [The Wire]

Earlier last week, the Delhi Hotel and Restaurant Owners’ Association, which represents more than 3,000 establishments in the capital, announced that Chinese nationals will no longer be provided accommodation in hotels and guest houses owned by its members. [The Times of India] [hindustantimes]

For an analysis on the current standoff between China and India in the border dispute see Tanvi Madan at [Foreign Affairs] who concludes that the fatal clashes in mid-June has reflected a new quality of the Sino-Indian border conflict which makes an agreement only a “distant possibility”. In the meantime, India “will warily watch its mountainous northern border for any sign of Chinese aggression.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 June 2020

India asks Russia to speed up delivery of missile system, jets amid China border tensions

(lm) Amid worsening ties with China following the worst military face-off between the Asian nations in four decades, India is reportedly seeking an early supply of a Russian anti-aircraft missile defence system – currently set for December 2021 – and to speed up the purchase of Russian made fighter jets. Visiting Moscow to attend the 75thanniversary of the Victory Day Parade, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to ask Russia to speed up the delivery of the S-400 deal that was originally signed in 2018. [Bloomberg] [The Hindu]

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 June 2020

China-USA/EU relations: Bridging Washington’s and Brussel’s diverging approach towards Beijing

Last week AiR reported on the China-EU summit at which both sides agreed on joint efforts to conclude a comprehensive bilateral investment agreement in this year. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

Picking up this outcome of the summit Paul Gewirtz at [Brookings] acknowledges that the EU is maintaining a different approach towards China than the USA as it is pursuing a “vital and complex” partnership with China whereas US strategies and policies on China revolve around competition and rivalry. He argues that only if Washington clearly understands the Brussel’s approach towards Beijing, it can identify spaces for common policies with the EU to enter into a collaboration that would help the USA to face China with the strength that stems from the transatlantic alliance. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 June 2020

China to conduct military exercises around Paracel Islands

(dql) Past Sunday China announced that it will conduct military training around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, an area disputed between China and Vietnam. The drills are scheduled for July 1 to 5, with all vessels prohibited from sailing in the area during that period, an assertive move which provokes strong Vietnamese reaction.

The announcement came shortly after ASEAN leaders at the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi last Friday expressed in some of their strongest remarks their opposition against China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea on historical grounds and emphasized “the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.” 

It also comes as the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Groups on the same day kicked off joint exercises in the Philippine Sea to bolster the United States’ “’responsive, flexible, and enduring commitments’ to mutual defense agreements with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.” [Nikkei Asian Review] [Bernar News] [Japan Times]

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 June 2020

China-USA relations: Tensions high over Hong Kong and Taiwan

(dql/ef) In the latest sign of escalating tensions between China and the USA over Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong, US State Secretary Pompeo on Monday announced that the USA will stop exports of defense equipment to Hong Kong, originating from the USA, and impose new restrictions on the export of dual use items to the city, a move by which Washington signals that Hong Kong no longer enjoys the special trade status with the USA. [Politico]

In an earlier Hong Kong-related move last week, Washington announced visa restrictions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong, a move Beijing was quick to condemn and to announce to retaliate with similar visa restrictions targeting certain US individuals. [CNN] [BCC]

Meanwhile, several moves in the last week on US side further worsened already sour Sino-US relations over Taiwan. The US Army took a rare action and posted a promotional video of a joint training session of Taiwanese and US-American special forces  soldiers, showing – among others – how a mock casualty is carried by Green Berets to what appears to be Taiwanese Army helicopter as well as  a soldier carrying a Type 91 assault rifle, the Taiwanese military’s standard individual arm. [Taiwan News] [The Drive]

In response to the video footage, Chinese state-run news outlet Global Times cited Chinese experts who see the joint military exercise as proof that “it was the US and the separatist authorities on the island that first changed the status quo and provoked the mainland.” Washington and Taipei would have to “bear full responsibility” for a possible reunification by force in the future. [Global Times]

Further complicating the situation over Taiwan, three American military planes were spotted over a strategic waterway that is used by Chinese submarines while US. lawmakers have introduced the Taiwan Fellowship Act to both chamber of the US Congress. The Act aims to help US government officials obtain deepened understanding about Taiwan by offering federal government employees fellowships for taking part in an exchange program which provides opportunities to learn, live and work in Taiwan. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Taipei Times]

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen President announced that she will take measures to provide the regular military force with a stronger military reserve force. Measures under consideration include ensuring the reserve force having similar combat capabilities like to regular Armed Forces as well as synchronizing human and strategic resources mobilization and establishing closer cooperation between the reserve force and government bodies. [Focus Taiwan 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 June 2020

China: Beijing passes Hong Kong national security law

(dql) As widely expected, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, the country’s top legislative body, on Tuesday unanimously passed the national security law for Hong Kong which criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. Critics of the law, whose text has not yet been made public, fear that it will erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and curtail democratic spaces of the city. [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

In an immediate response to the law’s passage, leaders of the pro-democracy political party Demosisto announced that they resigned from their party posts and left the party. Following their move, the party disbanded. Demosisto has been widely believed to be targeted as one of the first organizations by the law as it has been active in reaching out to US politicians for their support for the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act last year which allows – among other China-critical provisions – for sanctions against Chinese officials held responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong. [AiR No. 49, December/2019, 1]

Joshua Wong, Demosisto’s founder and leader, who vowed to continue to fight for the city’s autonomy in private capacity, warned that “[f]rom now on, Hong Kong enters a new era of reign of terror, just like Taiwan’s White Terror, with arbitrary prosecutions, black jails, secret trials, forced confessions, media clampdowns and political censorship.” [Reuters 1] [BBC]

In another reaction to the law, the pro-independence organizations Hong Kong National Front and Studentlocalism announced that they will stop their work in Hong Kong but continue offices and operations abroad. [Financial Times]

In an earlier development, more than 50 protesters were arrested on Sunday during rally against the security law. [Reuters 2]

 

 

 

 

 

 

23 June 2020

Cross-strait relations: PRC warns Taiwan against offering protection to Hong Kongers

(ef) After Taiwan announced that it would set up an office dedicated to handle humanitarian relief and care for Hong Kongers, the PRC denounced that plan of action by stating that providing humanitarian relief would “only continue to bring harm to Taiwan’s people”. The new office will begin operations on July 1, the day Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago. [Aljazeera]

The office is part of the Taiwanese relief plan for those citizens of Hong Kong who will be affected by the new national security law. The Taiwanese government will cover necessary expenses for those Hong Kongers whose freedom and safety are under threat. The office will handle applications of those seeking to stay in Taiwan for political reasons. [Straits Times]

 

 

 

 

 

 

23 June 2020

China confronted over low water levels in downstream Mekong river

(jn) After Mekong river water levels hit record lows in the last months, thus threatening millions of livelihoods, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) urged China on Tuesday to be more transparent over its upstream dam operations. Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam had to cope with severe drought last year as the tide of the river fell to record lows, even though the Chinese reservoirs held “above-average natural flow”, according to NASA satellite images.

The MRC said that the extreme low flows showed the need for China to publish timely data from its dams so its neighbors can react in time. Unusually forthright in addressing China, it called for an “all year-round data for effective monitoring and reporting on flood and drought.” The MRC acts as a dam consultation body for Mekong nations, but has been accused of being toothless in stopping river projects sponsored by state and private actors.

While there are already 11 dams on Chinese territory, dozens of hydropower dams are being built or in planning in downstream countries like Laos, many financed by Chinese-backed companies. The dam-building spree in China and Laos has worried the US so much that it prompted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year to warn against China concentrating control over the Mekong’s downstream flow. [see also AiR No. 21, May/2020, 4] [Channel News Asia]

 

 

 

 

 

 

23 June 2020

Bangladesh: China offers tariff exemption of exports from Dhaka amid tensions with India

(yo) China has declared tariff exemption according to which 97% of Bangladesh’s products will receive tariff exemption, which is a significant trade boost for Bangladesh. The decision is expected to counter the economic impact that Bangladesh is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Asian African Conference, Xi Jinping announced China will provide duty free market access for 97% of exports within a year for the Least Developed Countries (LDC) that have ongoing diplomatic connections with Beijing. [Business Insider]

This development can be interpreted as a way to influence Bangladesh, which has been a strong regional ally of India. It needs to be noted that China reported this deal when there has been rising hostility between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh. [Times of India]

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K Abdul Momen said that the Indian media was unjustly undermining Bangladesh by writing that China was using charity to buy Bangladesh on its side as tensions rise in Ladakh. However, Bangladesh’s cooperation with China has intensified in other areas, such as in health. China has said that Bangladesh would be considered with priority when an anti-COVID-19 vaccine is developed. [The Hindu]

 

 

 

 

 

23 June 2020

India-China tensions: India changes rules of engagement after deadly clash with Chinese troops

(ls/lf) India has changed the rules of engagement for its troops that are deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan valley between China and India after deadly clashes between the two sides. The revised rules now allow soldiers to open fire in extraordinary circumstances, which departs from a 1998 agreement between India and China, titled Confidence-Building Measures (CBM) in the Military Field, which prohibits open fire within 2 kilometers of the LAC. [Straits Times]

Since the first casualties were reported last week [AiR No. 24, June/ 2020, 3], the number of deaths has risen. India’s government confirmed that at least 20 soldiers have died in the dispute. The Indian army had initially reported three deaths, but this rose after a further 17 succumbed to their injuries from the physical fight without guns fired. The number of fatalities on the Chinese side are yet unclear, but the Chinese foreign ministry confirmed deaths on both sides. [DW]

Chinese foreign Minister Zhao Lijian has accused Indian soldiers of provoking the incident by several crossings of soldiers at an already tense time. Furthermore, Zhao accused India of provoking the tensions by constructing roads and infrastructure projects in the disputed Galwan valley. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has blamed the construction of a barrier along LAC by the Chinese as reason for the escalation.  [BBC 1] [BBC2]

Modi has been criticized at home for insisting that “nobody has intruded into our border, neither is anybody there now, nor have our posts been captured.” The opposition asked how the incident could occur despite satellite imagery apparently showing Chinese movements ahead of the clash. Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said that army generals had confirmed Chinese intrusions. [Hindustan Times] [Reuters]

Local trade groups and officials in India have demanded boycotts of Chinese-made products and urged new reviews of Chinese investment following the escalation. India just tightened its investment laws in April, introducing the necessity of government approvals. Significant procedural slowdowns due to the measures then led to partly revisions. [South China Morning Post]

 

 

 

 

23 June 2020

Japan-China relations: Chinese ships spotted in Japanese governed territory

(mp) Chinese ships had been spotted in Japanese governed territory disputed by China. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga referred to China´s unusual activity in the area as “extremely serious” and announced to monitor the situation further. China follows an area denial strategy seeking to keep U.S. warships out of the South China Sea in case of the outbreak of conflicts, pushing the U.S. policy of free passage to its limit. Chinas provocations also cast a poor light upon Japan´s decision to halt the Aegis Ashore missile defense system. [Nikkei Asian Review]

 

 

 

23 June 2020

Cross-strait relations: Chinese Air Force enters Taiwanese air zone

(ef) Marking the seventh encounter in two weeks, Chinese Air Force jets entered the Taiwanese air defense identification zone on Monday. One of the involved jets was the H-6 bomber which is a nuclear-capable bomber. After the Chinese Air Force received warning via radio, they left the air space. [Japan Times] A legislator has stated that the spike in such encounters could be a sign that the PRC deployed jets at a base in the South China Sea or that they are engaged in extensive combat training. [Taiwan News]

The sighting took place on the same day as President Tsai Ing-wen’s overseeing of the first public test flight of an advanced home-grown jet trainer. The new AT-5 Brave Eagle is the first domestically made jet in more than three decades and was developed as part of an increase in domestic military designing. [New York Times]

 

 

 

23 June 2020

China-Canada relations: Canadian nationals charged with spying

(dql) In a move further worsening already to strained relations between China and Canada, Chinese authorities have charged two Canadian nationals with espionage: Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman. The charges come more than 18 months after their arrest, which has been widely seen as retaliatory measure for the arrest Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou in Canada at the request of the US. Meng is currently fighting extradition to the US. China denies any connection between the arrests. [BBC]

 

 

 

23 June 2020

China-EU relations: Consensus on investment pact, tensions over Hong Kong national security law

(dql) At the China-EU leaders’ teleconference meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday, both China and the European Union (EU) reaffirmed that they remain committed to the conclusion of a comprehensive bilateral investment agreement this year. [Inquirer]

At the same time, von der Leyen and Michel expressed “grave concern” over the planned security law for Hong Kong striking a tough tone to warn Beijing of “very negative consequences” if it goes ahead with the law. In response, China called the security an domestic affair, sigaling that it is not willing to back down. [France 24] [Deutsche Welle]

 

 

 

23 June 2020

China-USA relations: Tensions over Uighur human rights act and Chinese media outlets after inconclusive Yang/Pompeo talk

(dql) Amidst high tensions in the relations between China and the USA, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Politburo member and director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi met for a seven-hours dinner talk in Hawaii. As expected, the talk exposed huge divisions over multiple issues with Pompeo insisting on “fully reciprocal dealings” with regards to trade, security and diplomacy and “full transparency and information sharing” on the coronavirus and Yang demanding that Washington stops meddling in Chinese internal affairs including Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan. However, observers view the first face-face meeting since months as a signal that both sides are trying to avoid a further deterioration of their relations. [Wall Street Journal] [South China Morning Post]

Defying China’s demand that the USA stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs, on the same day of the meeting between Pompeo and Yang US President Trump signed into law the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act which calls for sanctions against Chinese officials considered responsible for the human rights violations against Uighur Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang province. [Deutsche Welle]

In response, China announced that it will “resolutely hit back” against the Act adding that “the US will bear the burden of all subsequent consequences.” [The Guardian]

In another latest move, angering China, the USA has designated an additional four Chinese state-run outlets as foreign missions citing their ties to the Chinese government and the Communist Party. The move requires these outlets to comply with the rules that cover diplomatic missions, including providing detailed information about their employees as well as notifying the US government about any real estate transactions. [CNN]

 

 

 

23 June 2020

China to join the Arms Trade Treaty

(dql) China’s top legislative body last week voted to join the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a global treaty regulating cross-border trade in a number of categories of conventional arms and prohibiting their transfer under certain circumstances.

The ATT was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 and entered into force in December 2014. Over 100 countries have ratified or agreed to abide by it.

Last year, US President Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out of the treaty, which was signed by then-Secretary of State John Kerry but never ratified by the U.S. Senate. After the announcement China decided to sign the treaty. [Bloomberg]

 

 

23 June 2020

China: Satellite to complete rival to the US-owned GPS system launched

(dql) Marking another step in China’s advancement as a major space power, China sent the last satellite to space on Tuesday to complete its geolocation system. The network, known as Beidou, is expected to rival the U.S. government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS), which is widely-used across the world, as well as Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo. [Space.com] [Asia Times]

 

23 June 2020

Cambodia: Chinese-made trucks given to Cambodian government by undisclosed donors

(jn) Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, unveiled a shipment of 290 Chinese-made military trucks in a ceremony on Thursday, claiming the vehicles were not aid from Beijing but free gifts from “unnamed donors”. Hun Sen said that the trucks could be used during natural disasters and for defense purposes like in a border dispute with Vietnam. He denied that the vehicles, which were shipped to Cambodia, were donated by China that has long sought to deepen its political and economic sway over the country.

Critics fear that the trucks are supposed to help the government to more efficiently crack down domestically, rather than being used for defense purposes. According to Radio Free Asia, Hun Sen said last year that an additional $40 million would be spent on unspecified arms from China, on top of purchases from Beijing worth $290 million.

Cambodia and China conducted joint military exercises in March, lending credence to observations that both countries intensify their political, military and economic cooperation. [Radio Free Asia]

 

23 June 2020

China: Human rights lawyer sentenced to four years in jail

(dql) A Chinese human rights lawyer has been sentenced to four years in prison after a court found him guilty of inciting subversion of state power. Yu Wensheng, known for defending Falun Gong practitioners, had been under arrest since January 2018 [AiR 3/1/2018] after publishing an open letter calling for constitutional reforms. In earlier moves he had also expressed support for Hong Kong’s umbrella movement in 2014 and accused President Xi Jinping of transforming China into a totalitarian state in 2017. [Asia News]

In another development, a professor at Hubei University was banned from teaching and was expelled from the Communist Party for expressing support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests and for defending a Chinese author whose latest book criticizes the government of the city of Wuhan for mistakes in handling the coronavirus pandemic. [South China Morning Post]

23 June 2020

China: Beijing’s new security agency for Hong Kong – the end of autonomy? 

(dql) Details of the draft of Beijing’s Hong Kong national security law, reported by Xinhua after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) – the country’s top legislative body – completed a meeting to review of the draft law last week, have further geared the already heated controversy about the legislation and its impact on the autonomy of the city.

Among others, the draft stipulates that a “commission of safeguarding national security” shall be established in Hong Kong which is led by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, but supervised by and accountable to the Central People’s Government shall be established in Hong Kong. A national security adviser, appointed by the Beijing would be a member of this commission. According to a mainland source, the commission would be ranked at vice-ministerial level and would report directly to the Central National Security Commission of the Communist Party, headed by President Xi Jinping, while by end of the month the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, which is led be Xi, would name a senior security official to fill the post of the national security adviser in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, Beijing shall establish an office to be called “Office of the National Security Commissioner of the People’s Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” which – besides fulfilling duties of analyzing the overall security situation in Hong Kong and collecting related intelligence information – “may exercise jurisdiction over a tiny number of criminal cases that jeopardize national security under specific circumstances.” [Xinhua] [South China Morning Post 1]

For critics, the creation of this mainland office in Hong Kong with the authority “to supervise, guide, coordinate with and support” Hong Kong “in performing its duties on safeguarding national security,” would mean the end of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and city’s autonomy. [Hong Kong Free Press]

Chinese officials, however, defended the draft arguing that the system of dual safeguards – the mainland agency and local commission – was necessary as national security issues transcends the scope of the Hong Kong authorities. [South China Morning Post]

Another contentious detail of the draft is the plan to grant Hong Kong’s leader the power to appoint judges to handle national security cases. It prompted a backlash with critics saying that this move would diminish the independence of the judiciary. In an attempt to counter these critics, Chief Executive Carrie Lam reassured that she would consult Hong Kong’s chief justice when compiling the panel of judges, adding that she would not handpick judges to deal with specific cases. Instead, the judiciary would be responsible for allocating judges to national security cases from her list. [Aljazeera]

Meanwhile, human rights NGOs’ concerns over possible far-reaching limitations of  their work in Hong Kong have grown as the draft uses the vague term “collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security” to designate the fourth crime in addition to secession, subversion of state power, and terrorist activities, to be targeted and punished by the new law. In an earlier version of the draft law the wording was “foreign and external interference in Hong Kong affairs”. [South China Morning Post 2] [Guardian]

In an earlier move, almost 90 non-government organizations issued a joint letter last week calling on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to withdraw the introduction of the Hong Kong national security law, arguing that it threatens basic rights and freedoms. [Reuters] [Amnesty International]

The draft law is expected to be passed next week.

16 June 2020

Vietnam decries collision of vessels, laying of undersea cables in South China Sea 

(jn/ls) According to Vietnamese state media, last week a Chinese ship chased and rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat near Lincoln Island, a rock in the Paracel Islands’ waters occupied by China but also claimed by Vietnam. Subsequently, the Chinese crew reportedly seized fish and equipment to the value of $21.000 and also mistreated the Vietnamese captain after he had refused to sign a document. The incident may be the first after the fishing moratorium “Flashing Sword 2020” had been unilaterally imposed by China for the South China Sea north of the 12thparallel last month. [AiR No. 18, May/2020, 1] [AiR No. 19, May/2020, 2]

The Philippines and Vietnam criticized the ban and vowed not to recognize it. The last such incident transpired on April 2 when a Vietnamese fishing vessel sunk in a confrontation with a Chinese coast guard ship [AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1].

As another sign of unabated tensions between the two countries, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday protested against China’s undersea cable construction also near the Paracel Islands, calling it a violation of Vietnamese sovereignty. Vietnam also deployed a coastguard vessel to the equally disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea to drive away Chinese maritime militia around a Vietnamese outpost. [Radio Free Asia 1] [Radio Free Asia 2]

Meanwhile, the US Navy has currently three aircraft carriers patrolling in the “Indo-Pacific”, accompanied by Navy cruisers, destroyers, fighter jets and other aircrafts. The presence of three carrier strike groups, the first in nearly three years, is unusual as they normally take turns throughout repair schedules, port visits, training or deployments to other parts of the world. [Business Insider] Chinese observers interviewed by the government-controlled Global Times called the deployment a “mere show of vanity”. [Global Times]

16 June 2020

Philippines: Military construction on disputed island, while also “strengthening ties” with China

(mp/ls) Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana visited the Philippine-occupied island of Pag-Asa, unveiling a modernized beaching ramp and announcing a new military infrastructure project worth US$ 26 million. Despite their military character and subsequently advanced maritime defense positions, Lorenzana claimed that the measure followed the purpose of creating a liveable environment on the island. [South China Morning Post] [Inquirer, with photos from the island].

Pag-Asa is located in the South China Sea, where China’s recently heightened assertiveness caused several disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, countries which have overlapping claims in that region. Manila’s 2014 arbitration win against Beijing was meanwhile agreed to be set aside to make way for joint resource exploring. 

Meanwhile, during the marking of 45 years of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China, President Duterte called for “further strengthening of ties” between the countries. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque described their relationship as warm friendship. In a phone call, Chinese President Xi told Duterte that the Philippines would be prioritized once a vaccine against COVID-19 had been developed in China. [CNN Philippines

16 June 2020

India I: First fatalities in India-China tension, despite talks to further resolve border flare-up

(lm) Three Indian soldiers have been killed during a “violent face-off” with Chinese forces along the countries’ unmarked boundary in the Galwan area late Monday, Indian Army spokesman Col. Aman Anand said on Tuesday afternoon. According to the statement, the soldiers were not shot but were killed in hand-to-hand combat that involved stones and batons. Senior military officials from both sides were reportedly “meeting to defuse the situation”. [BBC] [Al Jazeera]

The sudden escalation on Monday night comes just days after Indian government officials had reported that both sides were making headway in follow-up dialogues to the meeting between senior military commanders on June 6. Earlier last week, Indian defence officials had reported that Chinese troops were observed to have “thinned” out in at least four stand-off points, a confidence-building gesture which was reciprocated by India. These reports had also indicated that both sides had agreed to continue engaging at the level of local military officials to resolve the dispute throughout the week. [Reuters]

Although India’s initial readout following the Sino-Indian talks on June 6 had not given any indication of an agreement on a gradual dis-engagement, defence sources by the end of the week indicated through leaks to media that at the Galwan area, the disengagement had happened earlier and in Gogra and at Patrolling Points 15 and 17A, the limited “de-induction” was already underway. [The Hindu]

Media readouts following the high-level military and diplomatic talks, however, have noted that there has been no change in status at Finger 4, the mountain spur Pangong Tso, where Chinese troops have intruded India’s side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and that no joint statement was released after the series of Sino-Indian ground talks on Saturday. [The Wire]

Despite the ongoing series of bilateral consultations, India reportedly is looking to complete the construction of its strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road until years-end. Running almost parallel to the LAC, the DSDBO is an all-weather artery that provides a reduction in time of travel for Indian security forces moving from Leh to Daulat Beg Oldi, the northernmost corner of Indian territory. Among possible triggers cited for the most recent military contention, diverging apprehensions on border infrastructure along the unmarked boundary seems to be the most consequential. [India Today]

Indian opposition leaders in the meantime have needled Indian Prime Minister Modi on the topic, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday taking on Twitter allegations that the Prime Minister had “vanished from the scene” in the face of “Chinese aggression”. While more Sino-India ground level talks are expected to take place, Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi are scheduled to meet at a virtual Russia-India-China trilateral on June 22. [National Herald] [The Times of India]

16 June 2020

Russian Arctic Scientist accused of spying for China

(dql) Russian state prosecutors have charged Valery Mitko, a prominent, highly awarded Russian Arctic scientist and currently president of the Arctic Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg with treason accusing him of passing classified information related to methods used to detect submarines to China. [TASS]

Russia is a major player in the Arctic region which has been building up its military presence there. While China and Russia are developing a strategic partnership in response to rising tensions with the USA and the West, the allegations of spying against Mitko (and other Russian scientists) points to competition between both nations in this region where climate change has opened up opportunities to exploit the resource-rich region. [South China Morning Post

For an analysis of China’s Arctic strategy see Heljar Havnes and Johan Martin Seland at [High North News] who argue that China is not aiming at a military course in the Arctic region, but at commercial development and at “building its capacity to enforce its perceived rights and protect its interests through an increasingly security-focused Arctic strategy that is backed up by the military.” 

16 June 2020

China warns students of studying in Australia

(dql) Relations between Australia and China, already strained over Canberra’s proposal for an international inquiry into how the Covid-19 outbreak in China, have worsened further after Beijing urged Chinese students going overseas to study to think carefully about Australia as destination country, citing  racial incidents targeting Asians in the wake of the pandemic.

The move follows tariffs China imposed on imports of Australian barley and a ban on beef imports from several Australian sources earlier in May. [Channel News Asia] [AiR No. 20, May/2020, 3]

16 June 2020

China-Germany relations: Merkel urged Li to commit to continuing market reform 

(dql) In her online meeting with Chinese Premier Le Keqiang which predominantly revolved around trade and economic issues, German Chancellor Merkel has pressed China to commit to market reforms and demanded further necessary steps related to “market access, reciprocity and equal treatment for foreign companies” to be taken by Beijing. [South China Morning Post]

Li, meanwhile, reassured that China was committed to further widening opening-up efforts and providing a good business and foreign investment environment and expressed his hope that Germany – when it assumes the European Union presidency in the second half of this year – will play an active role in advancing relations between China and the EU and in facilitating the conclusion of the China-EU investment agreement. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

An opportunity for renewed engagement between China and Germany has opened up as Germany’s ties to Washington have recently come under increasing strain the latest reflection of which is President’s Trumps announcement to remove US soldiers from Germany. [France 24

16 June 2020

China-USA relations II: Foreign Ministers to meet this week 

(dql) Amid Sino-US tensions running high over trade, the coronavirus and Hong Kong, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is believed to meet this week with Yang Jiechi, Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, for talks with focus expected to be on Hong Kong and arms control. 

The meeting comes as in a latest of a string of measures taken by Washington to pressure Beijing over its planned Hong Kong national security law U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced last week that he was working on various capital markets responses to China’s Hong Kong Security law, including restrictions on capital flows through the territory. The meeting also comes ahead of U.S.-Russian arms-control talks in Vienna, scheduled to start June 22. [Reuters 2] [Voice of America]

In another development easing a standoff on travel restrictions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2], China and the USA have agree to allow each side four flights per week between the two countries. [Reuters]

16 June 2020

China-USA relations I: US naval posturing in the Pacific

(dql) In a muscle-flexing move against China amid high tensions over the South China Sea and Taiwan, the USA for the first time in years has deployed three of its seven active Navy aircraft carriers to the Pacific Ocean including the USS Ronald Reagan, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Nimitz. With each of them containing over 60 aircraft, it is the biggest deployment of US aircraft carriers in the Pacific since 2017, when tensions with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program were at their height. [CNN]

In a related development, the US Navy has set up the new Warfighting Development N7 office. N7 which combines force planning, strategic thinking, and officer education is tasked with developing the strategic framework for the Navy. Its head, Vice Adm. Stuart Munsch, announced that N7 will also craft a wargaming schedule for the War College which he calls  “most advanced and significant war gaming we’ve done since the 1930s.”  [Sea Power Magazine]

16 June 2020

China: Parts of Beijing again under coronavirus lockdown 

(dql) Beijing has re-imposed lockdown measures for more than 20 residential compounds in the city and rolled out mass testing after a fresh cluster of novel coronavirus cases emerged from the city’s largest wholesale food market. On Monday, the Chinese capital reported 36 new Covid-19 cases, rising the total number to 79 since a locally transmitted infection was reported on June 12 for the first time in nearly two months. [The Guardian]

16 June 2020

China: Zoom shuts down activists’ account over Tiananmen online events

(dql) Teleconferencing company Zoom confirmed last week that it met a request from the Chinese government and shut down the accounts of several activists and online commemorations of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The acknowledgment came after Hong Kong and U.S.-based activists found their accounts suspended and reported to the media. [ABC News] [BBC]

In response to criticism that Zoom bowed to Chinese pressure, the company declared that it is working on technology which separates between Zoom participants inside and outside China so that it would be able “to comply with requests from local authorities when they determine activity on our platform is illegal within their borders,” while it would “also be able to protect these conversations for participants outside of those borders where the activity is allowed.” [NPR]

For interesting numbers reflecting Zoom’s global popularity see Brad Glosserman at [Japan Times] who warns of massive security and privacy issues in the face of 300 million daily users in April and an annual run rate at 2 trillion meeting minutes –or the equivalent of almost 4 million years – by April.

Meanwhile, Twitter announced that it removed almost 24,000 China-backed accounts in a latest move to tackle disinformation and influence campaigns on its platform. The accounts predominantly posted in Chinese languages geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China as well as deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong. [South China Morning Post]

16 June 2020

China: Another ‘tiger’ from Chongqing under corruption investigation

(dql) AiR last week reported on corruption cases involving two senior cadres. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] In another high profile corruption case, involving a ‘tiger’, the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party’s internal watchdog, announced that Deng Huilin, the Deputy Mayor and police chief of Chongqing, China’s most populous municipality with a population of 30 million, has been put under investigation for suspected “serious disciplinary violations,” an euphemism for corruption. [Caixin]

Chongqing has seen several high profile cases in the course of the nationwide anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping back in 2012. It is believed that the campaign is also used to sideline Xi’s political contenders including the city’s former party bosses Sun Zhengcai and Bo Xilai, both sentenced to life in prison over corruption charges. [South China Morning Post]

16 June 2020

China/Hong Kong: Marking protest anniversary as class boycotts and general strike looms

(dql) Over the last week anti-government protesters stage gatherings and rallies in Hong Kong to mark the anniversaries of both the begin of the protest movement on 9 June last year when estimated over one million people took to the streets to protest against the now withdrawn extradition bill of the city’s government, and the first major clash between police and protesters on June 12 when both sides clashed outside the Legislative Council after tens of thousands gathered there in an attempt to prevent hearings of the bill. [Aljazeera] [The Guardian

In another move on Friday, pupils from at least six schools also marked the one-year anniversary of the anti-government movement by protesting against the Hong Kong national security law. They chanted protest slogans including “Five demands, not one less” and “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” and sang the popular protester anthem “Glory to Hong Kong”. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, organizers of an unofficial referendum set to be held this week to decide whether to stage school class boycotts and general strikes to protest Beijing’s planned national security law for Hong Kong announced to proceed with their referendum campaign in defiance of warnings from Beijing and local officials and undeterred by the arrest of three volunteers who set up referendum promotion booths last Friday. The campaign is backed by the Hong Kong Secondary Students’ Action Platform and more than 20 pro-democracy labor unions with more than 10,000 members representing 20 industries. [Deutsche Welle] [Hong Kong Free Press]

The planned referendum signals rising political heat in Hong Kong over Beijing’s push for the Hong Kong national security law seen among critics as paving the way for Beijing to further tighten its grip on Hong Kong and undermine the city’s autonomy and democratic spaces.

In a latest attempt to disperse these claims and concerns the Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office announced that the law expected to be passed at the end of this week will not be used retroactively, adding that while Beijing would reserve for itself jurisdiction over a small number of most serious national security cases, Hong Kong would responsible for most enforcement work. [Channel News Asia]

9 June 2020

Cambodia: PM Hun Sen again denies Chinese naval base, 

(jn) Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday denied that his government was granting exclusive access rights to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) at the Ream naval base, an unresolved issue that has received critical scrutiny by ASEAN neighbors and the US. Last July, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had reported on a purported secret deal between China and Cambodia that would have a Chinese company construct new piers in exchange for a PLAN 30-year-long presence close to the South China Sea and beyond through the Strait of Malacca to the Indian Ocean. Such a base would form part of a still evolving network of military and economic facilities along the primary maritime routes of southern Asia, often called China’s “string of pearls”. Concern among the US leadership already lead Vice President Pence to pen a cautionary letter to Hun Sen in 2018.

Hun Sen justified his public stance by stating that the constitution would not allow for foreign military bases, but any interested country could ask for permission to dock with its navy ships. In his careful wording he rather invited “anyone who wants to hold exercises on Cambodian territory” and said his country would “welcome aid from the US, France, Japan and China” to relocate a military training facility from Ream. He reiterated, that in order to build a new pier Cambodia would “need funds from China […] – but if you all want to give money, we would welcome it.”

A Chinese presence at Ream might not be so much a part of any blue water strategy given the relatively shallow waters and already existing outposts in the region, but it might have greater significance for China’s tense relationship with Vietnam whose claims to the South China Sea are just around the corner and who is already bristling at Chinese operations close to its coast.

In March, Cambodia hosted a joint military exercise with China that also become the country’s top defense equipment supplier. In 2017 it had cancelled an annual joint military exercise with the US scheduled for that and for the following year, which until now has not been resumed.

China is Cambodia’s biggest investor and closest political partner which in turn helps Cambodia offset the West’s distancing owing to its bleak human rights record. As the closest to Beijing among the ASEAN members Cambodia has also supported Beijing’s geopolitical positions, e.g. its territorial claims in the South China Sea. [The Diplomat 1] [The Diplomat 2[Bangkok Post] [WSJ]

9 June 2020

India-China border tensions 

(lf/ls/dql) The People´s Liberation Army of China has held a large-scale drill at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh. This came after talks between India and China over the weekend had resulted in an agreement to not let the tensions escalate into a dispute. India reportedly aimed to demand from China that the two militaries would go back to the positions that they had held before the stand-off commenced in late April [Asia in Review No 20 /2020, 3] and for the Chinese side to not make any new territorial claims. The removal of new constructions along the border was another issue to be discussed. The outcome of the meeting has apparently been limited to reaching a better understanding of each other’s positions. [Hindustan Times] [South China Morning Post]

The LAC is the demarcation line separating Chinese controlled Kashmir from Indian controlled Kashmir and is about 2,000 km (according to China) to 3,488 km (according to India) long. [Indian Express]

Prior to the talks on the weekend, China has appointed Lieutenant General Xu Qiling as new army commander for its Western Theatre Command ground forces which is responsible for the Sino-India border. Prior to this post, Xu – handpicked by President Xi – was Commander of the Eastern Theater Command Ground Force, Deputy Commander of the Central Command and Commander of the 79th Group Army. The latter is part of the Northern Theater Command, tasked with countering the threat of Soviet armor in the Far East and said to be provided the best equipment and training available in the  PLA. Xu was also chief of staff at the former 54th Army Corps, known as an elite PLA fighting force involved in the crackdown on a Tibetan uprising in 1959 and the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. [Economic Times] [India TV News]

Reflecting the heightened tensions, a write-up in Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times blamed biased Indian media for considerably contributing to misunderstandings between the two Asian powers and urged them to “shake off Western influence and think independently so that they can best maintain India’s interests.” [Global Times]

9 June 2020

Cross-strait relations: Chinese fighter jets enter Taiwan’s airspace

(dql) Chinese Su-30 fighter jets this Tuesday briefly entered Taiwan’s airspace, prompting the island’s air force to issue verbal warnings and “active responses” to drive away the intruders. [Reuters]

Beijing’s move came as Taiwan announced that its largest annual live-fire drills, the Han Kuang exercises, will be conducted in July and September with a focus on testing the country’s asymmetric capabilities to ward off hostile forces at sea and along its beaches involving all three branches of Taiwan’s military. [Focus Taiwan]

In an earlier development last week, the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s only entirely home-built aircraft carrier Shandong was performing sea trials testing weapons and equipment as well as enhancing training of the crew after it had left her home port of Dalian in late May on her maiden voyage for training since being commissioned five months ago.

While military experts consider the Shandong inferior to US Navy counterparts, she nevertheless reflects China’s rise to a regional naval power amid tensions with the USA and others over trade, Taiwan and the South China Sea. [Defense News] [Asia Times]

 

 

 

9 June 2020

China-Japan relations: Visit of Xi Jinping unlikely to take place in 2020

(mp) Amid heightened tensions between the United States and China, the visit of China’s leader Xi Jinping to Japan is hanging in the balance. Initially planned to be held in spring, the meeting was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, after China announced to impose its controversial security bill over Hong Kong, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declared to reconsider Xi’s visit. Hong Kong democracy activists had urged the Japanese government to “carefully consider” the invitation of Xi. While China hopes to utilize the trip to Japan to impress the world with its success in overcoming the coronavirus outbreak, Tokyo is diplomatically troubled between both superpowers China and the United States. Japan faces pressure not to thwart its key security ally while also being aware of its own economic dependence on China. [Nikkei] [Japan Times]

This fear of friction was expressed when Japan rejected to join the United States, Britain, and other countries in condemning the imposition of the mentioned Hong Kong security law, leading to harsh critics from involved countries. Later, Abe clarified that he was “deeply concerned” about the latest developments in Hong Kong. He stressed the outstanding importance of Hong Kong as a partner and defended Japan’s ‘independent’ position by stressing the hope for a joint statement at the G7 meeting in September. [Kyodo] [Reuters]

 

 

 

9 June 2020

China-UK relations II: British coronavirus vaccine secrets targeted by Chinese hackers

(dql) Jeremy Fleming, head of the Government Communications Headquarters of the United Kingdom, revealed that hackers from hostile states, including China, were targeting the UK’s health infrastructure and research labs in an attempt to steal the secrets of a potential coronavirus vaccine. [The Guardian]

In an earlier Covid-19 related development, the UK government dismissed as spurious claims made by Richard Dearlove, former head of the British foreign intelligence service, that the coronavirus escaped from a lab in China by accident. [Telegraph][Daily Mail]

Meanwhile, China’s government released a lengthy report on its response to the pandemic hailing its success in curbing Covid-19, reiterating that it neither delayed nor covered up anything and attacking the USA which in order “[t]o disguise their inadequate response to COVID-19, […] insanely smeared and slandered China.” [CTV News]

 

 

 

9 June 2020

China-UK relations I: Tensions rise over Johnson’s citizenship offer to Hong Kong residents 

(dql) China-UK relations remain tense over the latest developments related to Hong Kong. In response to Beijing’s push for a national security law in Hong Kong [AiR No. 22, June/2020, 1], British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that the United Kingdom will reform its immigration rules to provide as many as 3 million residents of its former colony a path to obtain residency and citizenship in case the Chinese government would enact the law. [Telegraph]

China was quick to condemn the plan accusing London of Cold War and colonialist mentality and urging it to “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs. Otherwise, the UK will lift the stone and hit its own feet.” [Global Times]

For an assessment of Johnson’s move see Patrick Winter at [The Guradian] calling it “a big gamble” of the Prime Minister, both with regards to foreign policy as in confronts China as well as to domestic politics due to uncertain support among conservative members and pro-Brexit voters within his party.

 

 

9 June 2020

US ban on Chinese students with military links

(dql) A proclamation signed be President Trump at the end of May went into effect last week, banning Chinese graduate students and researchers who have ties with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from entering the United States. The move is part of US efforts to stop China from using graduate students to steal intellectual property and technology from America. The ban affects 3,000 to 4,000 Chinese international students. 

Critics reject the ban arguing that it risks to jeopardize American universities’ capacity to conduct cross-cutting research by cutting off American universities from Chinese students’ contribution to science and innovation. [Voice of America] [The Hill]

 

 

9 June 2020

China-USA relations: Trump drops ban on Chinese passenger flights to USA 

(dql) The Trump administration on Friday shifted from a previous plan to outright ban Chinese passenger airlines from flying to the U.S. from mid-June on to limiting the number of flights of Chinese carriers to the U.S. to two per week. [Fortune]

The moves came after Beijing announced to permit more foreign airlines to resume services to China from June 8 on. Beijing’s move itself was a response to the announcement of the US Department of Transportation to ban all commercial passenger flights to the U.S. by Chinese carriers from June 16 on, or even sooner depending on President Trump’s discretion. [CNBC]

In late March China’s air authority issued a notice that Chinese and foreign airlines could maintain just one passenger flight per week on one route to any given country and that carriers could fly no more than the number of flights they were flying on March 12. However, as U.S. passenger airlines had stopped all flights by March 12, they were effectively precluded from reinstating scheduled passenger flights to China. [Washington Post]

For a brief outlook of China-USA relation for 2021, see Dingding Chen in [The Diplomat] who foresees a failure of Trumps repressive measures against China which will eventually lead to an adjustment of his China policy and to an improvement of Sino-US relations in 2021.

 

 

9 June 2020

China: Advancing space technology

(dql) End of May China successfully deployed a pair of satellites launched aboard a Long March 2D. Among the two satellites, the Gaofen satellite is believed to be used for military purposes in addition to civilian applications including observations for disaster prevention and relief, climate change monitoring, geographical mapping, environmental and resource surveying as well as precision agriculture support. [Rocket Rundown]

For an account on China’s recent leaps in its efforts to advance as a space power to catch up with the USA and Russia, see Vidya Sagar Reddy at [East Asia Forum].

 

 

9 June 2020

China: Senior cadres face corruption trial

(dql) Two corruption cases involving two senior cadres in Xinjiang have been revealed by the Central Commission of Discipline Inspection (CCDI), China’s top anti-corruption watchdog. The first case involves the deputy chairwoman of the government of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, who is under investigation for corruption. Holding the rank of vice-minister, she is the fifth “tiger” to be targeted by the CCDI this year. [South China Morning Post 1]

In the second case the former head of the United Front branch in the Kashgar prefecture stands accused of taking bribes in return for job promotions and project approvals. [South China Morning Post 2]

 

 

9 June 2020

China/Hong Kong: Tiananmen square crackdown remembered amid passage of contentious national anthem bill

(dql) Defying a ban on mass gathering imposed by the police on grounds of public health concerns thousands of Hongkongers last Thursday joined a candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of the violent Tiananmen Square crackdown of the student-led protests in 1989. [South China Morning Post]

Attendees chanted “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” and “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” slogans to also express their rejection of Beijing’s decision at the National People’s Congress end of last month to craft – without involving Hong Kong’s legislature – a national security law for the city that would punish subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference in the former British colony and would allow relevant central agencies to establish institutions in the city to “lawfully fulfill their related duty of protecting national security.” The move has been widely feared by critics as paving the way for Beijing to massively curtail civil rights and democratic spaces in Hong Kong. [Aljazeera] [AiR No. 22, June/2020, 1]

In a related highly symbolic move and latest sign of Beijing’s tightening grip on the city, Hong Kong’s legislature on the same day passed the contentious national anthem bill against fierce protest of the opposition parties. The bill outlaws disrespecting and insulting the Chinese anthem ‘March of the Volunteers’, punishable with a fine up to almost 6,500 USD and imprisonment of three years. [Deutsche Welle] 

 

 

2 June 2020

Cross-Strait relations: Taiwan’s legislature condemns Beijing’s Hong Kong national security law resolution

(ef) Taiwan’s legislature denounced Beijing’s decision on imposing a national security law on Hong Kong with all major parties stating that the security law negates the PRC’s promise of ‘a high degree of autonomy’ in Hong Kong. [Focus Taiwan 1]

Meanwhile, civic groups have called for the establishment of an asylum system for political refugees from Hong Kong. Currently, there is no law governing the refugee policy, albeit Article 18 of the Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong and Macau Affairs states that ‘necessary assistance’ shall be given to Hong Kong and Macau residents whose safety and liberty are immediately threatened for political reasons. President Tsai Ing-wen has announced that a ‘humanitarian assistance action plan’ covering residency rights and social assistance for Hong Kongers shall be drafted. [Focus Taiwan 2 ] Article 18 has never been publicly utilized to avoid antagonizing the PRC. Whilst Taiwan has quietly extended temporary visas of many Hong Kongers, the government has not provided them with financial or other direct assistance. [The Diplomat 1]

Meanwhile, a leading PRC-official reiterated that the PRC will use its armed forces to ‘resolutely smash any separatist plots or actions’ of the Taiwanese government. The 2005 secession law [for an English version see China Embassy] allows the use of force if peaceful reunification efforts fail. However, the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office assured that the preferred modus operandi remained ‘one country, two systems’ and ‘peaceful reunification’. [Aljazeera

A recent study on the Taiwanese public opinion toward Taiwan, China and Taiwan’s future can be assessed at [The Diplomat 2].

 

 

2 June 2020

Myanmar trying to find its footing amid power struggle between China and India

(jn) The Myanmar military flew detained members of Indian insurgent groups from the northwestern region of Sagaing to the Indian state Assam in mid-May to surrender them to Indian authorities, which now has become public. Indian insurgents have sought shelter in western Myanmar since the late 1960s from where they used to launch offensives into eastern Indian states. This was mostly condoned or denied by Myanmar authorities, whose resources were tied up in other seditious regions of the country, until February 2019 when the army raided a headquarter that was shared between a faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) and rebels from India.

The recent repatriation and last year’s raid fit the greater pattern of a geostrategic (re-)alignment that Myanmar seeks in a regional rivalry between China in the north and India in the west. Before the political reforms and state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to power in the last decade, the country had deep ties with China. The latter has never linked its investments and arms sales to Myanmar’s human rights record unlike the West. The revival of diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the West, however, came to an abrupt halt with the violent crackdown against Rohingyas and the ensuing refugee crisis in 2017.

In recent years the Myanmar leadership has pivoted to several other countries, first and foremost again to China, which is eager to further integrate Myanmar in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aiming at strengthening the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) as an exclusive access to the Indian Ocean and vast natural resources. However, rifts have appeared between Suu Kyi, who is working towards ever closer ties with Beijing, and the military’s top brass, who are increasingly seeing themselves as their country’s guardian against an anticipated loss of sovereignty under Chinese dominance. 

This comes as a remarkable reversal of the previous role allocation, because Suu Kyi as an internationally revered political pro-democracy and human right activist, formerly married to a Tibetologist, was not the obvious go-to-person for China. But with her reputation in tatters on the world stage since the Rohingya refugee crisis, Suu Kyi has looked north to tap into economic support which she needs to successfully weather the upcoming national election this November. 

Fittingly, in January, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese president to visit Myanmar in 20 years with 33 bilateral agreements in tow. The Tatmadaw’s stance on China, however, has become increasingly frosty given China’s economic advancement with large infrastructure projects, and its double game on the issue of ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, acting both as conflict mediator and secret arms supplier to rebel groups. Tensions have also led the military’s top brass to suspend two major Chinese infrastructure projects. 

The Tatmadaw have thus turned to India that is equally indifferent about the human rights situation. Since 2017, the military cooperation has been taken to a new level, including joint military training and exercises in the Bay of Bengal were India is keen to contain China’s encroachment. India is concerned about Chinese influence and arms trafficking to insurgents in its unruly north eastern border regions. 

In its effort to diversify its security alliances, Myanmar has also turned to Russia that sold it six Sukhoi Su-30M fighter jets and graced it with a visit by the defense minister in January 2018 during which a deeper military cooperation was agreed upon. [Asia Times 1] [Asia Times 2]

 

 

2 June 2020

India-China military standoff: Tensions are rising 

(lm) Amidst its latest border flare-up with China, India has sidestepped U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate. The Indian Foreign Ministry on Thursday said that India was determined to settle the row and had already engaged in talks with China. [The Straits Times]

Despite their insistence on being committed to peacefully resolve the confrontation, in recent days both armies have rushed in thousands of reinforcements and started to dug in defences. [Reuters]

Since early May, an escalating build-up has caused Indian and Chinese soldiers to engage in a military standoff on the disputed border in the remote Ladakh region in the Himalayas, accusing each other of trespassing. [Asia in Review, No. 19, May/2020, 2] [bbc]

2 June 2020

China-USA relations: Tensions remain high over Hong Kong National Security Law

(dql) Sino-US tensions remain high following the approval of the resolution of the Chinese government to impose a national security law for Hong Kong by the National People’s Congress (NPC). [South China Morning Post]

In response to the move, US President Donald Trump announced that he will end preferential treatment for Hong Kong in trade and travel as well as take “necessary steps to sanction” both Chinese and Hong Kong officials considered to be “directly or indirectly involved in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy.” The way for Trump’s move was paved by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shortly ahead of the resolution’s passage when he declared that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from China, a assessment that allows for revoking favorable trade relationship with the USA and sanctioning Chinese officials believed to be responsible for the loss of the preferential status. [BBC] [CNBC 1] [CNBC 2]

Responding to Trumps’ announcement, Hong Kong Chief Executive accused the USA of “double standards” in defending the Hong Kong protests and condemning the planned security law by pointing to the Trump administration’s response to violent racial justice protests currently sweeping the United States. [Channel News Asia]

China’s state media also hit back warning that the “baton of sanctions that the United States is brandishing will not scare Hong Kong and will not bring China down,” as “”China has already prepared for the worst. No matter how far the US goes, China will keep its company.” [Sydney Morning Post]

For possible US reactions of Beijing’s tightened grip on Hong Kong see Steve Bannon, former chief strategist to President Trump and chairman of the “Committee on the Present Danger: China” in an interview in [The Wire] who urges Washington “to go as hard-core as possible” against China, including tackling mainland Chinese banks and sanctions against Chinese officials, and warned that failing to do so would lead “to a path to war, to a kinetic war” between both countries.

In another move of Trump causing speculations about an attempt to forge an alliance to contain China, he announced that he plans to invite Australia, India, South Korea and Russia to join an upcoming G7 meeting in September and to expand the G7 to become a G10 or G11. [The Telegraph] South Korea was the first of the additional four countries to confirm that he received an invitation and that he accepted it. [Korea JoongAng Daily]

Also adding to ongoing high tensions between China and the USA, a Canadian court ruled last week that the case of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is fighting extradition to the United States, can proceed further after finding that her case meets the threshold of double criminality, i.e. the charges would be crimes in both the US and Canada. The USA seek’s Meng’s extradition to bring her to trial on charges linked to the alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran. China rejected the ruling saying that the “purpose of the United States is to bring down Huawei and other Chinese high-tech companies, and Canada has been acting in the process as an accomplice of the United States. The whole case is entirely a grave political incident.” [BBC]

2 June 2020

China: NPC approves economic rescue plan and resolution on Hong Kong National Security Law

(dql) The week-long National People’s Congress 2020 closed last Thursday with two major outcomes. 

First, in an attempt to counter the economic fallout of the pandemic, China will provide a stimulus package of more than 550 billion USD worth to fund cost cuts for pandemic-hidden factories and merchants to save jobs. The measures of the stimulus package range from tax exemptions, lower bank interest rates and a waiver of contributions to social welfare funds to reduced prices for utilities such as electricity. In addition, China has pledged fiscal spending and government bond issuances worth more than 280 billion USD. [South China Morning Post 1]

Secondly, the NPC approved a resolution of the government to craft a national security law for Hong Kong that would punish subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference in the former British colony and would allow relevant central agencies to establish institutions in the city to “lawfully fulfill their related duty of protecting national security.” Hong Kong’s legislature will not be involved in the legislative process of the law. [CNN] [Xinhua, for the text of the resolution in Chinese]

The resolution is Beijing’s latest in a string of moves to exert tightened control over Hong Kong in the light of the anti-government protests. In latest developments showing backing of the move from government institutions in Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s security chief on Monday announced that the city’s government has begun preparatory work by making available the human and material resources needed to ensure a smooth implementation of law once it is enacted, while heads of the governing council of eight publicly funded universities in Hong Kong have jointly expressed support for the law. Last year universities had been the stage of some of the most violent protests in Hong Kong. [ECNS] [South China Morning Post 2]

The approval of security law resolution deepened concerns and condemnation with critics fearing and forecasting a massive curtailing of democratic rights and spaces in the city and the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy. [East Asia Forum][Jamestown Foundation: China Brief 1] [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief 2] [Hong Kong Free Press]. 

A very first move verifying these fears in the view of critics of the law is the banning of a vigil marking the Tiananmen Square crackdown this week by the police for the first time in 30 years. Police cited public health for the ban. [BBC]

In response to those critics, Premier Li Keqiang, defended the NPC’s move and insisted at his press conference following the closure of NPC that the future Hong Kong National Security Law aims to “accurately carry out the guiding principles of ‘one country two systems’, ‘Hong Kong citizen govern Hong Kong’, and high degree of autonomy.” [Government, China, in Chinese] 

 

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]