Asia in Review Archive 2020 (July- December)

China (People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

20 October 2020

Laos: More Chinese assistance

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

20 October 2020

Chinese vessels intrude into Vietnamese EEZ

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

20 October 2020

Cambodia, China sign free trade deal signaling closer relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 October 2020

Philippines: Moratorium on energy exploration lifted

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

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

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

20 October 2020

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

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

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

20 October 2020

Indonesia: Prabowo to leave for US upon invitation

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

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

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

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

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

20 October 2020

Maldives’ minister calls into question Free Trade Agreement with China

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

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

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

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

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

20 October 2020

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

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

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

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


20 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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


20 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 October 2020

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

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

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

20 October 2020

Japan: Newest warship revealed

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

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

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

20 October 2020

China-Saudi Arabia relations: Deepening economic ties

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

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

20 October 2020

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

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

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

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

20 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 October 2020

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

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

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

20 October 2020

China re-elected to UN Human Rights Council

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

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

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

20 October 2020

Philippines: Communist party announces targeting Chinese firms

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

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

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

20 October 2020

Nepal: Cabinet reshuffle ahead of Indian Army Chief visit

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

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

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

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

20 October 2020

China: New national flag/emblem law

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

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

20 October 2020

China: Only state-approved haj pilgrimages allowed

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

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


20 October 2020

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

Taiwan: KMT will not change party name

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

13 October 2020

Indonesia: Vaccine cooperation no influence on South China Sea position

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

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

13 October 2020

Indonesia: Challenges for the newly appointed Ambassador to the US

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

Cambodia, China to sign free trade deal

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

13 October 2020

China provides $90 million grant to Sri Lanka

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

13 October 2020

Cross-strait relations: Taiwanese citizen confesses spying on China 

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

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

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

13 October 2020

Cross-strait relations: China gears up rhetoric of war 

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

13 October 2020

Japan: Rare solo maritime exercise in South China Sea

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

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


13 October 2020

Japan: Bolstering intelligence with regard to China

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

China-US: Bill to designate CCP as criminal organization 

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

China: Government behind Chinese FDI in Europe

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

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

13 October 2020

China: Global and domestic perceptions towards China

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

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

China: Joint statements pro and contra Beijing at the UN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 October 2020

Singaporean spy sentenced to 14 months in jail

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

13 October 2020

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

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

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

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

To date, the provincial government in Sindh argues that the federal government has no authority over the islands, saying that according to the constitution any island within 12 nautical miles of the maritime boundaries falls within the jurisdiction of the provincial government. During an emergency meeting held on October 6, the PPP-led government unanimously rejected the presidential ordinance and demanded that the federal government immediately withdraw it. [Gulf News]

Recent developments have to be seen against the backdrop of a wider resentment against Chinese economic expansion in Pakistan under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework. In September, for example, fishermen announced a campaign against the arrival of Chinese deep-sea trawlers off the coast of Sindh and Baluchistan. Political leaders in Sindh are now fearing that the federal government is preparing to hand over some of the islands off the province’s coast to Beijing. [Dawn 3]

Further, since the launch of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a part of the BRI, the list of outlawed groups has been expanded to include ethnic and sectarian groups from the southwestern province of Balochistan and the northern region of Gilgit Baltistan. In May, the federal government banned Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz-Arisar (JSQM-A), a Sindh-based political party well known for criticizing China’s BRI, along with two militant groups from the same province for alleged terrorist links [see AiR No. 21, May/2020, 4]

13 October 2020

Taiwan: Legislature passes proposal to resume diplomatic ties with Washington unanimously

(dql) Taiwan’s legislature last week unanimously passed two resolutions submitted by the opposition Kuomingtang (Kuomingtang, Chinese Nationalist Party) which calls for US military aid to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression as well as a resumption of diplomatic relations between the USA and Taiwan. [Taipei Times]

Both proposals came at a surprise as the KMT has been so far upholding a much more China-friendly stance, compared with the confrontational stance of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which insists on Taiwan being a sovereign nation. At the recent party congress, the KMT – albeit after heavy internal dispute – had confirmed the ‘1992 consensus’ which the DPP categorically rejects. [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

The sudden change triggered questions about its ulterior motives, with some observers suggesting “political theater” aimed to maneuver the DPP into a difficult situation. Last month, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister publicly declared that his government would currently not push for full diplomatic relations with the USA. [Taiwan News] [The Diplomat 1]

Chinese state-run Global Times, meanwhile, condemned the KMT for its move harshly calling the party “losers,” and demanding that – given this “loser mentality” – China “must not count on them for future cross-Straits peace and national reunification,” but “fully prepare itself for war and to give Taiwan secessionist forces a decisive punishment at any time.” [Global Times]

For an account on the KMT’s internal discussions on its policy towards China – a core issue in the frame of the party’s reform process after the devastating defeat in the presidential and legislative elections in January –, see David G. Brown in [The Diplomat 2] who argues that the KMT is in need of a more Taiwan-centered cross-strait relations policy to remain relevant in Taiwan’s political system.

13 October 2020

China: Teacher fired for discussing HK independence

(dql) A Hong Kong primary school teacher has been punished with a lifelong revocation of his license for promoting the city’s independence after he handed out worksheets asking students to discuss independence and freedom of speech in his classes. [Hong Kong Free Press]

Hong Kong’ teachers’ union rejecting the punishment as “unacceptable” and “extreme” and announced to appeal the case. [Aljazeera]

Defending this unprecedented action, the city’s Education Bureau claims that it was intended to “protect students’ interest and safeguard teachers’ professionalism and public trust in the teaching profession.” Meanwhile Chief Executive Carrie Lam vowed to continue to “weed out the bad apples” from the teaching profession sparking concerns about a possible campaign against teachers. [The Guardian] [South China Morning Post]

6 October 2020

Indian PM Modi inaugurates all-weather tunnel in northern border region

(lm) While inaugurating the strategically important all-weather Atal Tunnel at Rohtang in Himachal Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government will continue to expedite several frontier projects including roads, bridges and high-altitude airstrips. Further elaborating on the issue, the prime minister also took a jibe at the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for its alleged lack of focus on the development of border infrastructure and compromising with the country’s defense interests. [Hindustan Times]

Traversing India’s northern Himachal Pradesh state, the tunnel enables travelers to bypass a tricky route across a landslide-prone Himalayan pass, and, thus, will drastically reduce the time needed to rush troops to the country’s remote Chinese border. [The Straits Times]

Noteworthy, the project is part of New Delhi’s push to catch up with Chinese infrastructure development on the other side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India’s Border Roads Organization (BRO), which implements most of these strategic projects, says it has built more in the last four years than in the previous decade. Speaking against the backdrop of ongoing tension with Beijing along the de-facto border, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh in September had told parliament that the government had doubled the budget for border infrastructure development [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

6 October 2020

Nepal: Students protest against alleged Chinese encroachment into Nepalese territory

(lm) Students in Nepalese capital Kathmandu on Monday launched protests in front of the Chinese embassy against the alleged Chinese encroachment into the country’s territory. [Economic Times India]

Last week, an inspection team found that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had constructed at least nine buildings in Nepal’s northwestern Humla district, which borders the Tibet Autonomous Region. Notwithstanding the findings, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs soon thereafter said that an inter-ministerial team in 2016 had already found the buildings in question to be located approximately one kilometer inside the Chinese territory from the Nepal-China border. [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

6 October 2020

Indonesia, Vietnam to be first on Suga’s list

(nd) According to Japanese media outlets, Japan’s newly appointed Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is considering his first state trip to be to Indonesia and Vietnam. Predecessor Abe Shinzo’s first state visits after his reelection in 2021 were also Vietnam and Indonesia, emphasizing his vision of the “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Suga is committed to continuing Abe’s foreign policy to strike a careful balance between economic engagement and strategic competition with China, and a special focus on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With its position between two oceans, Southeast Asia became a key focus of Japanese diplomacy. Bilateral relations improved under Abe, intensifying trade, security cooperation and infrastructure development, with strategic partnerships in place since 2006 (Indonesia) respectively 2014 (Vietnam). Both countries’ relationship to Japan are forged by shared concerns over Chinese presence, be it either in disputed waters of East and South China Sea or through infrastructure funding under the Belt and Road Initiative. [The Diplomat]

6 October 2020

Top diplomats from ‘Quad’ countries meet in Tokyo

(lm) Japan is hosting a meeting of the foreign ministers of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) seen as a counter to China’s influence in the region. The forum brings together Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to discuss issues including the coronavirus pandemic and the regional situation. [The Japan Times]

In the run-up to the ministerial meeting, a senior US state department official dismissed talk of formalizing the association, saying the United States wanted to strengthen existing regional architectures, not create new ones. Speculation about Washington’s interest to explore a new framework for Indo-Pacific cooperation, dubbed the “Quad Plus”, received a boost in September, when US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the US was aiming to “formalize” the groupings’ military, economic and development cooperation. Though cautioning visions of an Indo-Pacific NATO, at that time, Biegun emphasized that the format shall remain open for other countries to join but “align in a more structured manner” [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]. [Hindustan Times]

The Quad meeting comes as the trade ministers of Japan, India and Australia agreed this month to work toward a “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative” in the Indo-Pacific region, following reports that the three nations are looking to work together to secure supply chains and reduce dependence on China [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4].

In August, India had made public its intentions to invite the Australian Navy to join the annual instalment of the Malabar exercise, completing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) [see AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]. A formal invitation to Australia to join the exercises is still pending.

6 October 2020

Vietnam warns China to not endanger maritime code talks with military drills

(jn) Vietnam cautioned on Thursday that Chinese military exercises near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea would put the negotiations for a regional maritime code of conduct (COC) at risk, just when the talks between China and ASEAN members were about to restart. China began five military exercises simultaneously along different parts of its coast on Monday, including two exercises near said island chain that is also claimed by Vietnam.

Agreeing on the COC has been an objective of ASEAN and China for almost two decades, even its legal (binding) character has been doubted by experts as China genuine commitment to it. [Reuters] [Vietnam News]

6 October 2020

Cambodian king reaffirms One-China-Policy 

(jn) King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping extending his congratulations on the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. He expressed solidarity with China on their controversial One-China policy, saying Cambodia will stand side-by-side with China and adhere to policy. [Cambodianess]

6 October 2020

Cambodia destroyed US-funded facility at Ream Naval Base, possibly in the context of Chinese access 

(jn) Satellite images analyzed and made available by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) have revealed that the Cambodian government destroyed a US-funded military facility at Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk Province, further stoking the fear that changes at said base are related to a secret deal on military access between Cambodia and China. According to AMTI, the building probably demolished at the beginning of September was the Tactical Headquarters of the National Committee for Maritime Security that had been built and renovated by the US, and inaugurated in 2012. 

AMTI also noted that satellite images show the progress of land reclamation and about 100 acres of new landfill since February, about three miles north of the base at a stretch of Ream Bay. The zone is being developed by Canopy Sands Development Group which is owned by the Chinese conglomerate Prince Group. Canopy Sands is one of several Chinese companies, some of them with ties to Beijing, that have leased large tracts of land around Ream Naval Base for resort development. [AMTI CSIS]

Reports of a Chinese access to Ream Naval Base had caused anxiety among ASEAN neighbors and the US after reports of a deal between China and Cambodia emerged last year that would allow a Chinese company to construct new piers in exchange for a 30-year-long presence of the Chinese navy (PLAN). A Chinese foothold at the Cambodian coast would have the potential to unsettle the already skewed security equilibrium in the region by giving China another opportunity to permanently project military power to the South China Sea and to the straits of Malacca. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] [WSJ]

The Cambodian Defense Minister General Tea Banh said on Saturday that the demolition was not out of the ordinary but rather part of a development plan for the base that required moving existing structures to a new location. The goal allegedly was to improve and enlarge the base that was still small and shallow at the moment. He also played down the significance of the US investment as merely amounting “small repair” and “some equipment”, but nevertheless on sovereign Cambodian soil. He called out the US for “making issues” and “always making allegations”. [Radio Free Asia]

Only two weeks ago in a meeting with US ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy, Tea Banh had explicitly assured that Ream Naval Base would be for the Cambodian Navy’s use only. [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5] However, a ministry spokesman said that the removal was necessary to make way for an expansion of the naval base because “a lot of ships will need to dock”. [Reuters]

Asia Nikkei Review reported on Saturday that according to Vann Bunlieng, a three-star vice-admiral, deputy commander and chief of the navy general staff, the Chinese government was supporting the expansion of the port and the development a ship repair facility at the base on the Gulf of Thailand. The waters surrounding Ream Naval Base would be deepened so that it can receive larger ships in the future. He said that the “Chinese government helps us to build a port and repair facility for our ship.” 

Even though the Cambodian government and Prime Minister Hun have repeatedly denied any future foreign and military use of the base, the Chinese state-owned company MGC had revealed in 2016 that it was tasked with a “Port Expansion Project” by Cambodian authorities in a “cooperation framework agreement”. In a statement that was since taken down, it had given away on its website that the project aimed at expanding a “naval military base”. [Asia Nikkei Review]


6 October 2020

Indonesia, China agree on direct currency settlement

(nd) In an effort to boost trade and investment transactions, Indonesia and China agreed to develop a framework of direct settlement between the rupiah and yuan. With such a framework in place, it is ensured that a selected number of local banks holds enough liquidity in the foreign currency for settling the transaction.

With more than $73 billion worth of goods exchanged annually, China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner. Usually, such transactions are settled using US dollar, for it is widely available in most banking systems, but tending to be more expensive and the traders to be subject to the currency’s volatility. Previously, Bank Indonesia put in place a local currency settlement framework with Malaysia, Thailand and Japan. [Jakarta Globe]

6 October 2020

India, Sri Lanka hold first virtual summit

(lm) At their first virtual summit on September 26, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to expand maritime cooperation between their countries to stabilize the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal in the face of China’s growing ambitions in these regions. After Sri Lanka last month had announced its “India First Policy” – a reiteration of its commitment not to allow a third country to use its land or waters for anti-Indian activities [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1] – India clearly continued to step up efforts to win back ground lost to Beijing. [South China Morning Post] [Deccan Herald]

Firstly, India promised to consider Colombo’s request for delayed debt repayment and a $1 billion currency swap arrangement. In July, the Reserve Bank of India had already signed an agreement for extending a $400 million currency swap to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) until November 2022 in order to help the CBSL balance the country’s payment requirements [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]. Further, in a bid to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence on China, India is reportedly working on a plan to offer Sri Lanka $50-million Line of Credit (LoC) in the defense sector. [The Economic Times]

However, on at least two issues – the East Container Terminal (ECT) project in Colombo and the implementation of the 13th Amendment – the Rajapaksa brothers so far have not yielded to pressure from New Delhi. [The Diplomat]

In the run-up to the August general election, Colombo had suspended the ECT project, which India, Japan, and Sri Lanka were to jointly implement [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]. Although Japan and India are keen to see the deep-sea container terminal implemented, there have been no signs so far that Mahinda is thinking of reviving it. What is more, Mahinda visited the Port City project in Colombo earlier this month and called for the construction of the project to be accelerated, saying the BRI project would be the country’s future main source of revenue. The Colombo Port City project is being executed by a subsidiary of the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). [Xinhua]

Neither did the meeting result in a bridging of the gap in their positions on the question of Sri Lankan Tamil rights. Just hours after both countries had issued a joint statement, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office released a separate statement, making no mention of Mr. Modi’s call, or the 13th Constitutional Amendment which provides for devolution of power to provincial councils. [The Hindu]


6 October 2020

India test-fires new missile systems

(lm) India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) on Monday successfully tested its indigenously developed Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART) system, which the organization said will be a “game changer” in anti-submarine warfare. The flight testing of the new anti-submarine missile followed the test-firing of an advanced version of the Shaurya surface-to-surface nuclear-capable ballistic missile on October 3. The Shaurya missile can strike targets at a range of around 800 kilometers and will complement the existing class of missile systems. [The Logical Indian] [The Print] [The Drive]

Earlier last week, the DRDO successfully tested an ‘extended range’ variant of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile off the coast of Balasore in Odisha. The supersonic cruise missile is produced by BrahMos Aerospace, an India-Russian joint venture, and can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft, or from land platforms. [The Week]

Against the backdrop of heightened tension with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the DRDO, Indian Ministry of Defense’s top research and development arm, has recently been carrying out a series of missile tests. Last month, the organization successfully test-fired a Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV), tutting the country in a select club of few (US, China, Russia) that have demonstrated such this technology [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]. Moreover, on September 22, the DRDO successfully conducted flight tests of Abhyas, a Highspeed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT) [see AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5].

6 October 2020

India, China agree to hold 7th round of military talks to resolve border issue

(lm) India and China on September 30 held the 19th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) to review the current situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). During the inter-ministerial meeting, both sides agreed to follow-up on the five-point consensus reached between Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart and State Councilor Wang Yi in Moscow on September 10 [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [The Tribune] [The Print 1]

In his extensive address, the Chinese Ambassador to India showed no sign of the rancor expressed by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) the previous day. On Tuesday, the Chinese MFA had refused to recognize the Union Territory of Ladakh and, in a separate statement, said it would abide only by a “very clear” border alignment first spelt out in 1959 by late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai – a claim explicitly rejected by India then and since. [The Diplomat] [South China Morning Post]

The two countries further agreed to hold the next round of senior military on October 12 with a specific agenda of firming up a roadmap for disengagement of troops from the friction points. The composition of the Indian delegation for the 12 October talks could remain the same as that of 21 September when the two sides met at Moldo, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

Then, talks had yielded a joint statement – the first since the two delegations started talks in June to end the border crisis that had started in May when India detected multiple intrusions into Ladakh [see AiR No. 19, May/2020, 2]. While exchanging “candid” and “in-depth” views “on stabilizing the situation along the LAC in the India – China border areas both sides agreed to stop deploying more troops to their contested border and avoid any action that might lead to an aggravation of the situation on the ground. Still, a tangible breakthrough on de-escalation eluded the marathon talks. [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

The situation along the LAC also found mention in the remarks made by the Indian Air Force (IAF) chief. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria described the situation along the LAC as being in an “uneasy no-war-no-peace-status”, whose future development would largely depend on the outcome of the ongoing talks. Further elaborating on the issue, the air chief also highlighted the substantial tactical and strategic capability enhancement gained by the recent acquisition of Rafale fighter jets [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]: “Air power will be a crucial enabler in our victory in any future conflict. It is, therefore, imperative that the IAF obtains and maintains a technological edge over our adversaries.” [Hindustan Times] [The Print 2]

6 October 2020

Indian delegation visits Myanmar, amidst ongoing border stand-off with China

(lm) Against the backdrop of China’s growing regional economic and political clout [see e.g. AiR No. 3, January/2020, 3AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2], India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla along with the country’s army chief visited Myanmar on October 4 and 5 to meet with State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi and the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces. In light of the ongoing border stand-off between its soldiers and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh, New Delhi expressed its concern over the possibility of Chinese military move through the India-Myanmar-China trijunction around Diphu Pass. Beyond the issue of border security, both sides also discussed the possibility of building a petroleum refinery in Myanmar that would involve an investment by India worth 6$ billion. [Times of India] [The Diplomat] [Hindustan Times] [Deccan Herald]

Previously, on October 1, both countries held the 19th round of Foreign Office Consultations through video link. During the meeting, the foreign secretary reiterated New Delhi’s commitment to infrastructure projects in Myanmar, must significantly the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the 2008-launched Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP), which is supposed to link India’s Calcutta port to the Sittwe deep-water port in Myanmar, as well as facilitate land connectivity. Initially scheduled to be completed by 2016, Harsh Shringla said that both sides were working to operationalize Sittwe port by the first quarter of 2021. Further, India will provide debt service relief under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative to Myanmar from between May and December to mitigate the economic knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Hindu]


6 October 2020

Taiwan-USA security relations: Defense Industry Conference kicked off

(dql) On Monday Taiwan and the USA have kicked off this year’s Defense Industry Conference, an annual two-day semi-official military exchange. Speaking on this occasion, Taiwan’s Deputy Defense Minister called on the USA to help strengthen the island’s defense against China, adding that this should not be limited to “tangible weapons and equipment,” but also include joint efforts “in training, operational concepts, capability assessment, intelligence sharing, and armament cooperation.”

To demonstrate China’s assertiveness towards Taiwan, he cited more than 4.000 responses of Taiwanese fighter jets to incursions by People’s Liberation Army warplanes so far this year, compared with 1.798 times in 2019, while vessels were sent out more than 7.500 times vessels to monitor PLA war and surveillance ships sailing in the Taiwan Strait or crossing the median line. In 2019 the number was close to 6.000. [South China Morning Post 1]

In a separate announcement, the Defense Ministry revealed plans to increase the frequency of calling up reservists, in an attempt to boost the combat readiness of its reserve forces. According to the plans, reservist call-ups would occur every year for two weeks. Compared with currently bi-annual call-ups for five to seven days training. [Focus Taiwan]

The Defense Industry Conference and the announcement on the reserve force come at a when Beijing’s military is muscle-flexing on an unprecedented scale, with record numbers of warplanes entering Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), with the latest being Chinese military surveillance aircraft spotted flying over the southwest sector of its ADIZ on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. [South China Morning Post 2] [Asia Times] [AiR September/2020, 4]


6 October 2020

Cross-strait relations: China blocks Wikipedia at the World Intellectual Property Organization 

(dql) In a latest move to force multilateral bodies to comply with its stance on Taiwan, China – with backing from Russia, Iran, and Pakistan and against the USA, the UK, and Canada – has effectively blocked Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia’s parent, from gaining observer status at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) by deferring Wikimedia’s application for such a status at last week’s WIPO assembly in Geneva. Beijing cited “a large amount of content and disinformation in violation of one-China principle” on Wikimedia websites, accusing Wikimedia of “carrying out political activities through its member organizations which could undermine the state sovereignty and territorial integrity [of China].”

Taiwan accused China of trying to censor Wikimedia Foundation, warning of WIPO becoming “an agent of Chinese expansionism in global organizations.” [Yahoo News] [CNS News]

For insights into the geopolitics of bidding for leadership positions in UN specialized agencies and China’s efforts and successes therein, see Yaroslav Trofimov, Drew Hinshaw, and Kate O’Keeffe in [Wall Street Journal].

Chinese representatives are currently heading four of the 15 UN specialized agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the U.N. Industrial Development Organization. No other country – including the United States, the UN’s biggest funder – has a citizen heading more than one of the UN specialized agencies.


6 October 2020

China-Japan relations: Tokyo protests Chinese digital museum of disputed East China See islands 

(dql) China reassured its claims to the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea by launching an online “museum” showcasing material to “help visitors understanding why China has indisputable sovereign rights over the territory.” [Global Times]

Diaoyu Islands or Senkaku islands in Japanese refer to a group of uninhabited islands that are administered by Japan but claimed by both countries. The dispute increased to strain Sino-Japanese relations after Tokyo bought the islands from a private owner in September 2012. Now, Japan has lodged a diplomatic protest against the Chinese claims. [The Star Online] [Japan News]

6 October 2020

China-Canada relations: Canadian warship sails through Taiwan Strait

(dql) A Canadian warship has sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, in a latest sign of deteriorating Sino-Canadian relations. Relations between Beijing and Canada begun to sour with the arrest of the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies, Meng Wanzhou, in late 2018 based on a warrant from the US, which accuses her of bank fraud for misleading HSBC about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran and causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions law. Soon after Meng’s detention, China arrested Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, charging them with espionage. [Reuters]

6 October 2020

China-US military relations: Pentagon to deploy drones for maritime operation to Southeast Asia

(dql) The US Department of Defense announced that it is reprogramming “hunter-killer” drones, namely its MQ-9 Reapers, for maritime operations in Southeast Asia. MQ-9 Reapers possess a 40-hour endurance with a maximum altitude of 40,000 feet and a payload capacity up to 2.5 tons allowing to equip them with air to surface missiles and laser-guided bombs. The Reapers have been earlier used in Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq where Iranian Al-Quds Brigade Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed in Baghdad last January by such a drone. [Express]

Prior to the announcement, related exercises have been conducted in September with the Navy’s Third Fleet, which deploys carrier strike groups, submarines, and other sea vessels and aircraft to the Eastern Pacific, along with Air Force C-130s, and special warfare and Marine Corps personnel. [Air Force Magazine]

While China’s Foreign Ministry lodged “stern representations” with the US over the move, Chinese state-run media newspaper Global Times downplays the threats posed by the drones and cites analysts confirming that the “MQ-9 is not worth worrying about for China,” calling the deployment decision a “ploy […] to make this ‘obsolete’ drone look useful again.” [Global Times]

In a related development, India has revealed that it has ordered six US-made MQ-9B Sky Guardian drones to be deployed over the next few months. The six drones are part of a 3 billion USD order whose remainder of 24 drones Delhi will purchase over the next few years. [EurAsian Times]

Meanwhile, Iran presented itself as a drone-power in an exhibition last week showcasing various types of its drones, among them the Shahed 129 used for airstrikes in the Syrian Civil War and for border patrol on the country’s eastern border. [The Jerusalem Post]

For a brief historical account on Iran as a drone-power see Thomas Harding in [The National] who suggests that “[t]hrough luck, espionage and clever engineering,” the country has become an acknowledged player in unmanned warfare, with a drone industry second only to Israel in the Middle East. 

6 October 2020

China-USA diplomatic relations: Beijing mobilizes 26 countries to condemn US 

(dql) On behalf of 26 countries, Beijing on Monday issued a joint statement at the General Debate of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly criticizing the USA and other Western countries for hindering a global response to the pandemic by having imposed sanctions on countries “contrary to the purpose and principles of the UN Charter and international law, multilateralism and the basic norms of international relations.” The statement demanded the sanctions to be immediately lifted.

Asian countries backing this statement include Cambodia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Laos, Myanmar, and Pakistan. Other countries include Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Belarus, Burundi, Cameroon, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Namibia, Nicaragua, Palestine, Russia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Sudan, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. [Channel News Asia]

Among these countries Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela are currently facing “unilateral coercive measures” of the USA, other Western states, and the European Union. 

6 October 2020

China-US security relations: US reports urge tougher China policy

(dql) The Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives last week released a report that claims the “United States’ intelligence community has not sufficiently adapted to a changing geopolitical and technological environment increasingly shaped by a rising China.” It, therefore, demands a “significant realignment of resources,” warning that otherwise the US “will fail to achieve the outcomes required to enable continued U.S. competition with China on the global stage for decades to come, and to protect the U.S. health and security.” [House of Representative, USA]

Another report of the China Task Force of Republican members of the House of Representatives dismisses the strategy of engagement with China as it was pursued since both countries established diplomatic ties in 1979 as a failure. The GOP’s ‘task force’ calls for more than 400 changes to the existing US China policy and warns that “leniency and accommodation of the CCP and its oppressive agenda is no longer an option.” [Scribd]

6 October 2020

China: Space program advancing

(dql) Against the background of a new wave of space exploration internationally, China is working on rockets capable of sending astronauts to land on the moon as evidenced by the presentation of a new launch vehicle at the 2020 China Space Conference in Fuzhou last month. 

With no date for a test flight or a potential lunar landing announced yet, experts see Chinese not yet ready to send astronauts to the moon though, citing the country’s space technology currently not able to meet requirements for moon landing. []

For a brief account of the latest developments in China’s space capabilities with a focus on the recent launch of a reusable military spacecraft and what that means for the US Space Force, see Malcolm Davis and Charlie Lyons Jones in [Australian Strategic Policy Institute: The Strategist].

6 October 2020

Thailand: Higher costs for high-speed rail

(nd) The Thai government announced that another THB 12 billion is needed for the first phase of the high-speed rail from Bangkok to Korat, amounting to THB 50.6 billion in total. The overall budget for the 617-kilometer line that will eventually reach Nong Khai on the border with Laos is THB179 billion (US$5.7 billion).  Funds were approved in 2017, following an agreement with China, which is building the railway and extending loans. Following the agreement, three Chinese state enterprises — the National Development and Reform Commission of China, China Railway International and China Railway Design Corporation — are hired, who are expected to design the high-speed train and related systems, train the staff and build the system. The high-speed rail is expected to be completed in 2025.

The line is an important part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and it is assumed that it will eventually extend onward to the city of Nong Khai, across the Mekong River from Lao capital Vientiane. In Laos, there is a railway project under construction connecting the capital with China’s Yunnan province, linking it to the Chinese national high-speed rail network.

Last week, the rail base for the initial segment was completed and the project handed over to the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), which will work with the three Chinese firms to build the railway. Having been postponed earlier, Covid-19 repercussions on Thai economy might cause further delays: According to an economic outlook published by the World Bank, Thailand is facing an economic contraction of between 8.3 and 10.4 percent in 2020 – the worst of any nation in Southeast Asia. Additionally, the possibility for Chinese engineers and laborers to enter Thailand is in jeopardy.  [Coconuts Bangkok] [Bangkok Post] [The Diplomat]

6 October 2020

Mongolia: Anti-Chinese protests 

(dql) Ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Mongolia, Mongolian protesters took to streets in Ulaanbaatar to demand the release of ethnic Mongolians arrested in China for criticizing a controversial language policy which was introduced in neighboring Inner Mongolia last month and which reduces Mongolian as instructing language in schools. 

Protests, which erupted in Inner Mongolia over this policy, were swiftly suppressed by the Chinese authorities. [The Nation, Pakistan] [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1] [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2

6 October 2020

Taiwan: Constitutional revisions on the island’s political status? 

(dql) In a bold move, legislators of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) proposed constitutional changes concerning Taiwan’s political and territorial status of Taiwan to bring the constitution in accordance with what they claim political realities. Taiwan’s constitution has been promulgated in 1947 before the Chinese Kuomintang Party settled to Taiwan in the wake of its defeat against the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. The Kuomintang sponsored Constitution refers to ‘One China’ which Beijing claims to represent. 

Among the proposed changes is the removal of the term ‘national unification’ from the preface to the ‘Additional Articles’ of the constitution, which are the revisions and amendments to the original constitution. Furthermore, the proposal seeks to change the wording from “To meet the requisites of the nation prior to national unification,” to “To meet the requisites of national development,”. Another critical proposal refers to a contested phrase which occurs both in the main text of the Constitution and the Additional Articles, stating “the territory of the Republic of China, defined by its existing national boundaries.” The proposed revision would refer Taiwan’s national territory as “regions in which the Constitution has validity.” [Focus Taiwan 1]

The proposed constitutional amendment would represent a significantly sincere rejection of Beijing’s One China policy possible and comes amid highly strained cross-strait relations between Taipei and Beijing, with official communication channels shut down since independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) assumed power in 2016. 

In a related development, Taiwan’s parliament has actually set up an ad hoc committee to review revisions to the constitution. The committee consists of 39 members 22 of them belonging the DPP, 14 to main opposition Kuomintang and the remain three to two minor parties. As a last step to really change the Constitution, the people would have to vote for the change in a referendum. [Focus Taiwan 2]

6 October 2020

China: Muslim schoolgirls protest ban on headscarf on Hainan island 

(dql) Muslim schoolgirls of the Utsul minority last week staged a protest against an order issued earlier last month under which Utsul girls and women are required to put off their headscarf before entering schools and government offices. [South China Morning Post]

Utsuls are a Chamic-speaking East Asian ethnic group which lives on the island of Hainan, China’s smallest and southernmost province. Under Chinese law, they are subsumed under the Hui, Chinese speaking adherents of Islam and one of the 55 ethnic minorities officially acknowledged by the Chinese government. [France 24] [Bitter Winter]

6 October 2020

China: Small protest in Hong Kong on Chinese National Day

(dql) On 1st October, China’s National Day, Hong Kong citizen took to the streets to express their discontent with both the city government and Beijing. However, different from last year, only a small number of protesters faced 6000 police. Some observers attribute the decline on the impact of Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong claiming that public discontent remains high while voicing it has become too risky. [New York Times] [AiR No. 40, October/2019, 1]

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, lauding the national security law for having brought back peace and stability to the city, vowed to resist any pressure from hostile foreign governments. [VoA] [South China Morning Post]

In a related development, Chinese authorities in Shenzhen after weeks of silence formally approved the arrest of 12 Hong Kong activists who were detained in August after being caught when they were trying to flee China for Taiwan and charged 10 of them with illegal border transgressing and two of them with helping the others escape Hong Kong. [Aljazeera] [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]


6 October 2020

China: Five-Year Plan endorsed by CCP politburo

(dql) The Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party last week endorsed the 14th Five-Year Plan which identifies as its core “innovative, coordinated, green, open, and inclusive growth,” with annual growth set at 6.5%. The plan’s pledged promotion of ecological sustainability as mandatory target, echoes President Xi Jinping’s recent announcement to make China carbon neutral by 2060. The plan is expected to be passed at the Party’s Central Committee meeting end of October. [China.Org] [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

6 October 2020

China makes Xi Jinping’s doctrine mandatory university subject while purge goes on

(dql) With the start of the autumn semester in September, 37 elite universities across China introduced mandatory classes on the thought of President Xi Jinping on “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. Xi presented his doctrine publicly first at the 2017 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) National Congress that became enshrined in the Constitution in 2018. [Nikkei Asian Review] prominent party members, including former estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang and Cai Xia, a former professor at the Central Party School, the Party’s elite cadre training unit in Beijing. The former has been sentenced to 18 years in prison while the latter, currently in American self-exile, has been expelled from the party. 

It can also be seen in line with a recent party campaign directed at the law enforcement apparatus to ensure loyalty and discipline from police officers, judges, and state security agents. Widely seen as a purge, the campaign calls on cadres to “drive the blade in” and “scrape poison off the bone,” to expose wayward colleagues. [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]  [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5] [New York Times]

In a related development, a former senior disciplinary inspector of China’s top anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, is under investigation accused of “suspected serious violation of laws and party rule”. [Bloomberg]

29 September 2020

Taiwan: Air force drill and missile tests conducted

(dql) Last week, Taiwan’s military conducted a joint air defense drill simulating a response to an enemy air attack, involving all of Taiwan’s air bases, as well as naval and surface-to-air missile units, and tested supersonic anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles, simulating an interception operation. [Focus Taiwan]

The drill an tests comes at a time when Chinese warplanes have been conducting flights entering the Taiwan’s air defense identification zone in high frequency over the past month. [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times cited experts to confirm that tests revealed that Taiwan does not stand any chance in a military clash with China. [Global Times]

29 September 2020

Thailand: Worries over possible Bank of Thailand loan for dam project

(py) NGO’S, the Rak Chiang Kong group and the Thai public sector network of the eight provinces in the Mekong Basin, have expressed their concerns over possible loans from the Bank of Thailand to the construction of the Luang Prabang dam claiming geo-political, sociological and environmental risks.

The construction of the dam would not only be a highly potential natural catastrophe but would also represent a geo-political risk with Chinese power growing in the region. Lead developer of the Luang Prabang Hydropower Project is the “Petroleum Vietnam” enterprise. Some private Thai companies seem to also plan to invest in the project as well. [Prachathai, in Thai] 

Dam constructions in the Mekong River basin have always been a controversial issue as the integrity of the entire region depends heavily on the Mekong River. The Mekong River Commission’s secretariat concluded that the Xayaburi dam, which was completed in 2019, did not at that point comply with the World Bank’s standard. According to a Thai geologist, the building of the new dam in an earthquake-prone region could pose a great risk to the famed UNESCO-World Heritage City of Luang Prabang and further cited the dam as ‘’high risk”. [Asia Sentinel]

As a partner in China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI), Laos seems to be one of the victims in the debt trap whereby the countries have to compromise their sovereignty after defaulting on their infrastructure-related debts owed to China. Though Laos could approach the International Monetary Fund under its COVID-19 Financial Assistance and Debt Service relief response, the government preferably resort to China as the IMF agreement would demand greater financial transparency. Laos was reported as a country with no significant progress in the 2019 Fiscal Transparency Report by the U.S. Department of State. [See also AiR NO. 37, September/2020, 3]

29 September 2020

Philippines: Military chief of staff to ask Facebook to restore account

(nd) After Facebook took down more than 100 fake pages and accounts linked to the Philippine army and police targeting activists and dissidents as well as China-based accounts backing President Duterte, General Gilbert Gapay, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Philippines’ Armed Forces highest ranking officer, has asked Facebook head of public policy in the Philippines to restore the accounts, specifically the Hands Off Our Children (HOOC) page. According to Facebook, however, the pages had engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” and, among other activities, “artificially boost[ed] the popularity of content.”

Facebook in an earlier statement deemed the account as part of systematic propaganda against “communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing, the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines”. Their action intensified between 2019 and 2020. The page in question was administered by Army Capt. Alexandre Cabales, chief of the Army Social Media Center, who was the operator of a network of accounts with a similar agenda as the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) of the US-based Atlantic Council found. The request made by General Gapay to restore the HOOC page was a “clear admission” of the AFP’s hand in maintaining a “troll army”, member of the House of Representatives Gabriela Arlene Brosas said.

Meanwhile, progressive members of the House of Representatives warned that there are hints that China might meddle in the next presidential election, and referred to its Facebook account based in Fujian, China, which was also removed, allegedly supporting the presidential bid of President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, who is a member of the House of Representatives for Davao City. [Philippine Inquirer] [The Diplomat] [Manila Standard]

29 September 2020

US ambassador, Cambodian Defense Minister meet in the wake of sanctions fallout, but Hun Sen lashes out at West, international community 

(jn) US ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy and Cambodian Minister of National Defense Tea Banh met last week after the US slapped new sanctions on the Chinese state-owned company UDG. UDG is building the Dara Sakor investment zone project in Cambodia’ Koh Kong province which is part of the BRI and suspected of serving as a front for a future Chinese military installation [See also AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

Touching on a similar bone of contention, the Cambodian Defense Minister sought to reassure that the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk Province, will be used exclusively by the Cambodian navy and no other country’s navy, namely the Chinese. It would, however, welcome vessels from any other navy. Anyway, he continued, waters at Ream Naval Base were small and shallow and could only accommodate one large ship or several small ships, thus the base were suited only for the Cambodian navy. [Cambodian Ministry of National Defense Press Release] []

Like the Dara Sakor development, the Ream Naval Base has also come under heavy scrutiny by ASEAN neighbors and the US after reports of a deal between China and Cambodia emerged last year that would have a Chinese company construct new piers in exchange for a 30-year-long presence of the Chinese navy (PLAN) [See also AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]. Cambodia has repeatedly denied allegations that the country may plan for a permanent Chinese military presence, which would also be forbidden under Cambodia’s constitution – something the Defense Minister pointed out as well in his exchange with the US ambassador. Given Cambodia’s ever closer relationship with China in political, military and economic matters, however, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s vocal dismissals of such reports as “fake news” have also done little to quell suspicion. [Cambodianess]

A US embassy spokesperson told Radio Free Asia Washington was hopeful that the talks will help find a way to expand military-to-military cooperation. Cambodia’s Defense Ministry had abruptly suspended the annual “Angkor Sentinel” joint exercises with the U.S. military in 2017 and has so far failed to follow up with the same or another format. According to observers, such moves indicate Cambodia was accepting declining relations with Western countries in favor of better ones with rising powers like China. [Radio Free Asia]

As a symptom for the demise of relations with the West and in a contrast to the pleasantries exchanged between the US ambassador and the Defense Minister, Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at the West in a statement released on Monday on occasion of the International Day of Peace. He lamented that Western countries had failed to recognize Cambodia’s “great achievements” in the last decades and that his country had fallen victim to “double standards”. Regarding criticism of his government’s human rights record, the Prime Minister rehashed a common theme alleging that “this human rights issue” was a political tool or pretense for interfering with domestic affairs and the sovereignty of countries like Cambodia. [South China Morning Post] [Phnom Penh Post]

PM Hun Sen then capped the week on Saturday with pre-recorded remarks to the virtual 75th session of the UN General Assembly by criticizing the partial suspension of the “Everything But Arms” trade privileges that the European Union had granted Cambodia but withdrew in part in August over persistent human rights abuses and anti-democratic repression in the country [See also AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]. He attacked the EU’s decision as “biased”, “unfair” and revealing of “hypocritical double standards” and blamed the “political ambitions” and “opportunistic agenda” of some countries. Hun Sen also claimed that certain developed countries would punish developing countries for an imperfect nation-building process who, however, had a limited capacity to protect fundamental political and social rights. [VOA] [Cambodianess] [Khmer Times]

29 September 2020

Myanmar: Chinese state media accuses Western NGOs of China bashing

(lf) The Chinese state media Global Times has accused Western NGOs operating in Southeast Asia to fuel public resentment against Chinese development projects. According to the media statement especially in Myanmar NGOs have been breaching their political neutrality and engaged in fueling anti-China investment projects through environmental concerns. The article accuses NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy to fund Burmese NGOs to oppose Chinese investment projects. Local NGOs such as the in Rakhine located Shwe Gas Project (SGP) which opposed the China’s Trans-Burma pipeline strongly oppose this statement. [Irrawaddy] [Global Times]

29 September 2020

Malaysia: Ambassador refuses to follow US-imposed sanctions

(nd) In the ongoing conflict between China and the US, Malaysian Ambassador to China Raja Datuk Nushirwan Zainal Abidin said Malaysia will not pick sides and follow unilateral US sanctions, but will only recognize sanctions endorsed by the UN Security Council.

In August this year, the US imposed sanctions on 24 Chinese companies including subsidies of the China Communications Construction Company for allegedly participating in the South China Sea militarization. After a standoff between a Malaysian oil exploration vessel and a Chinese survey ship in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that lasted almost a month, there was no comment on the issue from Putrajaya. [Malay Mail]

29 September 2020

Indonesia: President to warn of US-China tension

(nd) In a prerecorded statement for the 75th UN General Assembly, Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo voiced concerns about mounting tension between the US and China are to intensify conflict in Southeast Asia. “War will benefit no one,” Jokowi said and “there is no point of celebrating victory among ruins. There is no point of becoming the largest economic power in the midst of a sinking world.”

Parallelly, Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte emphasized the necessity of a rule-based cooperation in the South China Sea, indirectly criticizing China.

Amidst US- Chinese rivalry, Southeast Asia is in a difficult position for being economically entangled with China, the leading trade partner of both nations, and having leaned on China’s  Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for infrastructure development, but yet dependent on long-standing American security guarantees. In the disputed South China Sea, both nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) overlap with Beijing’s “nine-dash line”.

Both speeches resonate with thoughts uttered earlier this year by Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong, for both superpowers to deescalate their tensions. [See also AiR No. 36, September 2020, 2] [The Diplomat]

29 September 2020

Philippines: Duterte’s first UN speech criticizing China indirectly

(nd) During his first speech at UN General Assembly at the 75th session, president Rodrigo Duterte for the first time since he assumed power in 2016 mentioned the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines, saying China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are in breach of international law.

Duterte said the decision “is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.” Without naming China, Duterte said “we firmly reject attempts to undermine it [and…] welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for — the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition.” Last week in a verbal note, Germany, France and Great Britain reaffirmed their support for the implementation of the ruling, again rejecting China’s historical claim over the waters. The Permanent Court of Arbitration nullified China’s nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters in 2016.

While his initial approach was knitting closer ties to China and separating from its biggest military ally, the US, Duterte’s speech can be seen as part of the government shift back towards the US, with China continuing to move aggressively in the South China Sea. Additionally, China has not fulfilled its promise of billions of dollars for infrastructure projects. Earlier this year, a decision to end a 22-year old agreement on joint military exercises with the US was suspended. This month, a US marine found guilty of killing a transgender Filipina in 2015 was pardoned by Duterte. Still, China is not completely off Duterte’s list, announcing China and Russia will be prioritized in sourcing a Covid-19 vaccine over Western drug makers.

Still, Duterte is accused of seriously violating them since he initiated his controversial war on drugs, killing 9,000 people. According to a Human Rights Watch report, those numbers rose by 50 % during the Covid-19 lockdown. Human rights advocates claim Duterte suppresses critical media outlets. Last week, the European parliament passed a resolution condemning human rights violations and threatening to revoke its trade benefits. This week, a bill was proposed to the US Congress – HR 8131 or the Philippine Human Rights Act – to block funding for security forces in the Philippines until the government puts an end to human rights violations. Most recently, Amnesty International emphasized in a report that stronger measures from United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and International Criminal Court (ICC) are “required to end human rights violations in the country, provide justice and reparations for thousands of families of victims, and hold those responsible to account.”

Yet, in his speech, Duterte upheld his policy, claimed anew he was protecting human rights against some who would “weaponize” them. He emphasized the lingering threat of terrorism and violent extremism against which his government is committed to protect the people from.

Additionally, Duterte uttered his commitment to ratify the United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Such a treaty will only come into effect upon the concurrence of at least two thirds of all members of the Senate, following the 1987 Constitution. Until now, 45 countries have ratified the treaty, five short of the 50 required for the pact to enter into force. The Philippines, among 122 other UN member-states, voted in favor of such a treaty in 2017. [FAZ (deutsch)] [Manila Times 1] [Borneo Bulletin] [Philippine Inquirer][Manila Bulletin] [Manila Times 2][Manila Times 3][Chiangrai Times] [Philstar] [Rappler]


29 September 2020

Philippines: Western powers will remain in South China Sea

(nd) Despite efforts of Southeast Asian nations to draft a Code of Conduct (CoC) in conjunction with China, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin reassured this will not result in Western powers kept away from the disputed waters.

Tensions between the US and China, inter alia in the South China Sea, are on the rise and were last voiced prominently during recent ASEAN meeting [See also AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3] [Bangkok Post]

29 September 2020

India, China agree to stop troop deployment along disputed border

(lm) Following a meeting of Indian and Chinese top commanders on September 21 at Moldo, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), both sides agreed to stop deploying more troops to their contested border and avoid any action that might complicate the tense situation there. Still, a tangible breakthrough on de-escalation eluded the marathon talks. [Al Jazeera] [Times of India]

Prior to the agreement, tensions between the two powers had persisted despite several attempts to find a diplomatic, military and political solution, including repeated negotiations in Moscow this month [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]. Last week, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh accused China of violating bilateral agreements and mutually agreed norms and expanding its troop deployments along the LAC [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

29 September 2020

India’s new fighter jets make “familiarization” flights near China border

(lm) India’s new French-made Rafale jets have made “familiarization” flights in operational areas including the Ladakh border region. The first five of a $9.4 billion Inter-Governmental Agreement for 36 Rafaele fighter jets were formally inducted on September 10, with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh calling them a “strong message” to New Delhi’s adversaries. [The Straits Times] [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

A total of 10 Rafale aircraft have been delivered to India so far, of which 5 stayed back in France to train Indian pilots. The first batch arrived at an Indian airbase on July 29, [AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1] and five more are expected to come in November. The delivery of all 36 Rafale aircraft is scheduled to be completed by 2021-end. [The EurAsian Times]

Still, French aviation giant Dassault and European conglomerate MBDA are yet to meet their commitments of transferring high technology to India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) as part of the deal relating to the procurement of the 36 Rafaele jets, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report published on September 23. [The Indian Express] [Times of India]

29 September 2020

India plans $3 billion drone deal with US to keep eye on border with China, reports say

(lm) India is preparing to acquire 30 General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper drones from the United States, in a deal valued at approximately $3 billion, India Today reported on September 23, citing sources. Accordingly, the Ministry of Defense has recently cleared the way for the procurement of an initial lot of six Reaper Medium Altitude Long Endurance drones worth $600 million. These six drones—two each for the Army, Navy and Air Force—are to be procured under a fast-track, government-to-government deal with the United States, indicating the urgency of the acquisition. The deal is therefore expected to get an “acceptance of necessity” (AON) at an upcoming meeting of the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. [India Today]

The remaining 24—eight drones for each service—will be acquired over the next three years under an ‘option clause’ in the contract. When the deal had been sealed three years ago, it only covered the delivery of 22 Sea Guardians (an unarmed maritime variant of the MQ-9) to the Indian Navy. In 2018, the agreement was then converted into a tri-services acquisition by the government, once the armed version of the MQ-9 was cleared for sale to India by the US.

Meanwhile, India’ Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) on September 22 successfully conducted flight tests of Abhyas, a Highspeed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT), from a test range in Odisha, defense sources said. [The New Indian Express]

29 September 2020

Taiwan: Taiwanese municipalities no longer referred to as “Chinese” on GCoM-website

(ef) The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM) has concluded that six Taiwanese municipalities that are members of the international group may keep their Taiwanese names on the website of the GCoM. Recently, the cities of Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung were classified as “China” on the website. It is a long-standing practice that international groups and companies must refer to Taiwan as being part of China, with China recently ramping up efforts to decrease the referral to Taiwan within international groups. However, the six cities jointly demanded that the GCoM change the registered names of their cities back to the original registered nationality, otherwise they would withdraw from the international group. According to the Taiwanese Foreign Minister, the EU helped the Taiwanese municipalities, although the EU traditionally keeps a low profile toward Taiwan. On Monday, the GCoM announced that the cities would be classified as Chinese-Taipei. [South China Morning Post] [Reuters]

29 September 2020

China-Japan relations: Leaders agree on wide range of cooperation amid persisting differences over disputed territories in the East China Sea

(dql) During their phone talk last Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga agreed on close cooperation to further development of bilateral ties – including high-level contacts to promote regional and international stability as well as cooperation on trade, North Korea and Japan’s efforts to retrieve Japanese victims of Pyongyang’s abductions in the 1970s and 1980s.

At the same time, differences over thorny issues were exchanged, including Beijing’s imposition of the national security law for Hong Kong and the territorial dispute over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, and claimed by both sides. In summer Chinese government ships had been sailing for more than 100 straight days in the waters around these islets. Suga reassured a hardline stance on the territorial dispute in the East China Sea, calling the islands an inherent part of Japan’s territory, both in terms of history and international law. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Reuters]  [NHK]

29 September 2020

China-USA brawl over diplomatic missions continues 

(dql) China has issued new instructions tightening actions of US diplomats posted in Hong Kong. A new order requires them to receive approval from China’s Foreign Ministry before meeting any Hong Kong officials. It applies to any official, private, social and video meetings, as well as to personnel of  any Chinese educational organization or society. [South China Morning Post]

The move is the latest in a string of tit-for-tat measures in the context of the dispute between Beijing and Washington over their respective diplomatic missions. In a move earlier this month, the USA announced new regulations under which senior Chinese diplomats would be required to obtain State Department approval before visiting US university campuses or holding cultural events with more than 50 people outside mission grounds. In July, the Chinese consulate in Houston was ordered to close over alleged involvement in espionage. China retaliated with an order to shut down the US consulate in Chengdu. In February and June, Washington designated Chinese media outlets as foreign missions requiring those to comply with rules which apply to foreign embassies and consulates in the United States, too. [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

29 September 2020

China-USA trade relations: Washington steps up pressure over Xinjiang and Chinese tech firms

(dql) The US House of Representatives last week passed the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention bill which requires any company that operates in Xinjiang or buys goods from there to prove their goods are not produced by forced labor. Lawmakers cited their intention to reign in and stop alleged forced labor from the Uighur community. [Deutsche Welle]

The move comes shortly after the Trump administration blocked imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over allegations that their production involved forced labor [Air No. 37, September/2020, 3], and is the latest in a string of US legislative efforts to pressure China over its Xinjiang policy where the Chinese government is accused of using forced labor and running internment camps for political indoctrination of Uighurs. In July, President Trump signed into law the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, authorizing the imposition of sanctions against Chinese officials believed to be implicate in the detention and persecution of Uighurs. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

China decried the bill, commenting that “the so-called problem of forced labor is totally a lie fabricated by some organizations and personnel in the United States and the West,” aimed at discrediting the government’s efforts to bring about development and progress in the region. [ABC News]

Echoing this, Chinese President Xi Jinping – speaking at a two-day conference last week which is believed to have set the direction of Chinese policy in Xinjiang for the next years – hailed recent developments in Xinjiang as a demonstration of the success of the government’s minority work in this region, with “people living in peace and contentment.” [Decan Herald]

On another front of the Sino-US trade dispute, Washington has ordered US companies to seek government approval prior to selling their technologies to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, China’s largest, partially state-run semiconductor company, citing the risk that their equipment could be used for military purposes. The restriction is the latest move in Washington’s crusade against Chinese technology companies. [VoA]

Meanwhile, a judge has issued a temporary block of an order from the Trump administration that was due on midnight of past Sunday and that would have banned the video sharing app TikTok, owned by Chinese internet technology company ByteDance, from being downloaded from U.S. app stores Apple and Google, while refraining from blocking a broader ban which is set for November 12 and which would make the use of the app entirely impossible in the USA. [The Guardian]

The ruling comes shortly after a deal had been concluded – and approved by Trump – between ByteDance and American multinational computer technology corporation Oracle and retail corporation Walmart to avoid a ban of TikTok operations in the USA. Under the deal, TikTok’s board will consist exclusively of American citizens, with a security committee led by a person with government security clearances and both the board members and the head of the security committee needing US government approval. The deal awaits approval from China. [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

In another blow to Trump’s trade measures against China, around 3.500 US companies, have sued the Trump administration over tariffs imposed on Chinese-made goods worth over 300 billion USD, arguing that Trump administration failed to impose tariffs within a required 12-month period as well as violated administrative procedures. [Aljazeera]

For details of the complaints, see Daniel J. Ikenson in [Cato Institute] who draws attention to the possibility that a President Biden might reform US trade-related acts to close loopholes and rein in the excessive powers currently bestowed on the president.

In an earlier move, the World Trade Organization ruled that USA breached global trading rules by imposing multibillion-dollar tariffs in Trump’s trade war with China. Washington was quick to reject the WTO’s ruling saying that the decision reveals the inadequacy of the organization to stop China’s trade misconduct. [BBC]

29 September 2020

China-USA great power rivalry: Beijing scores with carbon neutrality pledge amid Trump-Xi barbs traded over Covid-19 at UN General Assembly

(dql) Antagonism and mutual accusations dominated the speeches Chinese and US Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump delivered via pre-recorded videos at the United Nations’ General Assembly where discussions centered at the coronavirus pandemic.

The US President fired a salvo of criticism against China, calling on the international community to join hands to fight the “fierce battle against the invisible enemy, the China virus,” and to “hold accountable the nation, which unleashed this plague onto the world, China,” and reiterating his accusations of China (and a ‘China-controlled’ World Health Organization) deliberately misinforming the world about human-to-human transmissions of the virus. He further attacked China for abusing trade over decades and for being the word’s environment polluter. [White House]

Less confrontative in formulation, but equally determined in presenting his counter-accusations, the Chinese President reassured that China has “no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot one with any country,” adding in a thinly veiled attack on the USA that in “[f]acing the virus,” the international community should reject “[a]ny attempt of politicizing the issue or stigmatization,” and “follow the guidance of science, give full play to the leading role of the World Health Organization, and launch a joint international response to beat this pandemic.”

Furthermore, countering Trump’s attack on China as the world’s worst environment polluter, Xi took many at surprise by announcing that China will strive to peak its CO2 emission within this decade to become carbon neutral in 2060. [CGTN]

Xi’s pledge to make China – the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide gas – achieve carbon neutrality brings the country closer to the European Union which has committed itself to carbon neutrality by 2050 in its European Green Deal. Brussels was quick to welcome China’s announcement, calling in “an important step in our global fight against climate change under the Paris Agreement,” while warning that “a lot of work remains to be done.” [Climate Home News] [European Commission]

It reflects China’s assertiveness in claiming a leading role in global governance in area in which Trump has withdrawn the USA from the Paris Climate Agreement and has dismissed and continues to dismiss scientific evidence of climate change, as seen in the context of the recent wildfires in California. [The Atlantic]

For a discussion of the geopolitics behind China’s carbon neutrality pledge as well as of the challenges China is facing in turning itself into a carbon neutral country see Lili Pike in [Vox] and Niharika Tagotra in [The Diplomat].

Meanwhile, James Goldgeier and Bruce W. Jentleson in [Foreign Affairs] look for a proper understanding of a fundamental change of the US position in the world currently taking place. Arguing that the USA has undergone a historical development from being “apart” from the word (until 1945) to “atop” (1945-recently) to currently “amid” the world,  the USA needs to abandon the thinking that global leadership is an American entitlement, and acknowledge global leadership roles and capacities of other powers. 

29 September 2020

China: Advancing military air and space capabilities

(dql) China’s first homemade unmanned helicopter – the AR-500C -, successfully completed a maiden flight in high-altitude areas after conducting a range of tests including climbing, hovering, rotating and other operations maneuvers. Earlier in May, China successfully tested a helicopter drone in a low-altitude region. It is believed that the AR-500C, besides its usage for reconnaissance and communication relays, can be equipped for further functions including electronic disruption, target indication, fire strikes, cargo delivery, and nuclear radiation as well as chemical contamination reconnaissance.

The testing, hailed by Chinese state-run Global Times as a milestone in the country’s drone development, comes amid speculations that the drones might by soon also be deployed in Ladakh, the conflict region in the ongoing territorial dispute between China and India. [Republic World] [EurAsian Times]

Meanwhile, China expanded its Earth observation capabilities with the launch of two satellites last Saturday, to collect infrared and hyperspectral images, which contain information to help analysts distinguish between different types of features on Earth, such as vegetation, human-made infrastructure, and water quality. The launch is the latest of so far 29 launches in this year, signaling the country’s acceleration in the implementation of its space program. [Space News

In a related move, a squadron of 20 airmen of the US Space Force had been deployed earlier this month to Qatar’s Al-Udeid Air Base, the first foreign deployment of the sixth branch of the US military since its establishment in December 2019. Commenting on the deployment, the director of Space Force troops at Al-Udeid warned of ‘’other nations that are extremely aggressive in preparing to extend conflict into space.” In an earlier statement, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper accused China and Russia of turning space into a “warfighting domain,” and warned of “killer satellites, directed energy weapons, and more in an effort to exploit our systems and chip away at our military advantage.” [CBS] [The Sociable]

For an account of current international cooperation in space, including Sino-US cooperation, see Makena Young in [World Politics Review] who suggests that – despite space becoming increasingly weaponized – rivaling powers “can come together to advance science, exploration and their security aspirations, regardless of their militaries’ endeavors in space or on Earth.”

29 September 2020

China continues military muscle flexing

(dql/ef) China on Monday kicked off five simultaneous drills along different parts of its coast, including the Paracel Islands in the disputed South China Sea as well as in the East China Sea, the Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea. It is the second time within two months after concurrent exercises were conducted in August. [Reuters] [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]

In a related move, Chinese war planes have entered the Taiwanese Air Defense Identification Zone for a forty-six time within nine days. On two consecutive days on Friday, 18 September, and Saturday, 19 September, Taiwan’s air force intercepted nearly 40 jets of the People’s Liberation Army. [Aljazeera] [CNBC] [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

29 September 2020

Nepal: Oppositional Congress party criticizes MoFa’s handling of alleged Chinese intrusions

(lm) Nepal’s main opposition party, the Nepali Congress, on Thursday criticized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for issuing a hasty clarification on an alleged encroachment of Nepal’s territory by China. An inspection team earlier found that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had constructed at least nine buildings in Nepal’s northwestern Humla district, which borders the Tibet Autonomous Region. [Wion]

After locals had apprised the district authorities of the construction, Nepal’s Home Ministry sent an inspection team to visit the area on September 20. Finding that a border pillar was missing, the officials assumed that China had apparently taken advantage of the situation by encroaching into Nepal’s territory. A report prepared by the team was sent to the Home Ministry on September 22. In spite of the findings, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs the following day said that an inter-ministerial team in 2016 had already found the buildings in question to be located approximately one kilometer inside the Chinese territory from the Nepal-China border. [Times of India] [Swarajya]

Meanwhile, the border pillar, which was said to have been missing, was found the same day. [The Kathmandu Post]

In August, a report by the Survey Department of Nepal’s Agriculture Ministry had anew shed a light on China’s salami-slicing activities on border regions, claiming that Beijing has been encroaching on about 33 hectares of Nepali land at multiple locations spreading over seven bordering districts [see: AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. A report issued in November 2019, had found that four districts sharing a border with China – Sankhuwasabha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk and Humla – were seen losing territories in light of the diversion of rivers resulting from ongoing Chinese road construction in the Tibet Autonomous Region [see AiR No. 47, November/2019, 3].

29 September 2020

China/Hong Kong: Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong arrested amid new rules to tighten control over media

(dql) Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was arrested for participating in an unauthorized assembly in the context of a protest against a government ban on face masks in October 2019. 

The arrest adds to multiple unlawful assembly charges or suspected offenses that he in facing related to last year’s pro-democracy protests. [Deutsche Welle] [AiR No. 41, October/2019, 2]

The Hong Kong government, meanwhile, issued new guidelines under which the city’s police will recognize journalists from “internationally recognized and renowned” foreign outlets only or from media organizations registered with the government information system. Excluded are journalists whose accreditations are granted by local associations such as the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), which acts as a trade union for journalists, and Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA). 

The move targets in particular freelance and student reporters who have played a vital role in covering the anti-government protests over the past year. While government officials justified the new guidelines with the aim to prevent fake news obstructing police work, critics view them as an attempt to further crack down on press and media freedom. [Yahoo News] [The Wire] [Nikkei Asian Review]

In a related move, a reporter with Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the city’s government broadcaster, who is known for her sharp and bold questioning of local officials on the protest at press conferences – including Chief Executive Carrie Lam and then-police commissioner Stephen Lo in July 2019 –, has had another 120 days added to her already three-year long probation as a civil servant. RTHK cited as reason that complaints made against her needed to be examined. In case she refuses to accept the extension, she will have to leave her post. [Coconuts] [EJ Insight]

Critics called the move a blow to press freedom in Hong Kong, with RTHK itself having becoming object of heightened scrutiny and restrictions, including the suspension of a satirical show over allegations of airing “denigrating and insulting” comments about the police. [Hong Kong Free Press] [New York Times]

Meanwhile, the police have banned a major anti-government march planned for October 1, the National Day, by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a coalition of advocacy groups, on grounds of public health and public order concerns. [Hong Kong Free Press]

29 September 2020

China: Xi Jinping critic sentenced to 18 years imprisonment 

(dql) A court sentenced Ren Zhiqiang, former Chinese Communist Party member and outspoken critic of President Xi Jinping, to 18 years in jail after it found him guilty of corruption and abuse of power during his term in office as head of a state-owned property company.

Ren disappeared in March, shortly after publishing an article in which he criticized Xi for his handling of the coronavirus and alluded to him as a “clown”. 

Already in 2016, Ren was disciplined for publicly questioning Xi’s demands that Chinese state media must stay absolutely loyal to the party, with his party membership put on probation and his highly popular account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, shuttered. [CNN]

In a separate development, human rights lawyer turned journalist Chen Qiushi who went missing after reporting about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan has been confirmed being under government supervision. Chen rose to prominence over this coverage of the Hong Kong protests last year. [BBC]

29 September 2020

China slams accusations of coercive trainings in Tibet 

(dql) China has fiercely condemned accusations of forcing Tibetan pastoralists and farmers to underdoing coercive, centralized “military-style” vocational trainings in the frame of its labor transfer policy in Tibet. [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief]

In response, Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times rejects the accusations as “fabricated” with “an evil intention of smearing Tibet,” while insisting that the trainings are part of the government’s efforts to alleviate poverty in this region and are attended by Tibetan herdsman and farmers on a voluntary basis to obtain skills for future employment. [Global Times]

In a related move, an opinion peace in [Xinhua] hailed China’s poverty alleviation policy as “a pioneering example of practical significance to the international community,” citing that China has lifted 850 million people out of poverty since the Chinese Communist Party took over power in China and reduced the number of impoverished people from almost 100 million in 2012 to currently 5.5 million. 

22 September 2020

India: Delhi Police arrest Indian freelance journalist, allegedly found working for Chinese intelligence

(lm) On September 14, Indian police arrested freelance journalist Rajeev Sharma for allegedly passing sensitive information about several topics, inlcuding India’s defense strategy and defense acquisitions, to Chinese intelligence officials for several years. Delhi police said on Saturday that they had seized confidential Defense Ministry documents from Mr. Sharma’s residence in New Delhi. Mr. Sharma was arrested under the Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law. If proven guilty, he may face up to 14 years in prison. [Deutsche Welle] [South China Morning Post]

Mr. Sharma was allegedly responsible for playing information on topics like Indian troop deployments on the Bhutan-India border, defense acquisitions, India’s military cooperation with Myanmar, and the Dalai Lama into Chinese officers’ hands. Along with Mr. Sharma, his two associates – a Nepali and a Chinese national, who is linked to the Chinese Intelligence agency Ministry of State Security (MSS) – were arrested for allegedly supplying the Indian journalist with money through shell companies in return for passing on sensitive information.

Before leaving active journalism in 2008, Rajeev Sharma had worked for several Indian news organizations and was most recently associated with Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank. The founding director of the Vivekananda International Foundation is Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Advisor. A webpage linking to Sharma’s work for the think tank has been removed.

From 2010 onwards he was writing for the Chinese media platform Global Times. The Chinese state media outlet soon came to express its stand against the arrest of Mr. Sharma. In an op-ed published on September 20, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, called the arrest a “petty trick”, adding that both the “information release” by the Indian government and the subsequent media coverage of the case were “inappropriate”. [Global Times]

22 September 2020

Vietnam indignant over US embassy’s editing of country map

(jn) Vietnam has reaffirmed its claim over the disputed Spratly and Paracel island chains in the South China Sea, after the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi edited the islands out of a map of Vietnam that it had posted on its Facebook page for a recent diplomatic event. The foreign ministry said that Vietnam has always considered the Paracel and Spratly Islands as inseparable parts of the Vietnamese territory and has said so in many international forums. The island chains with their resource-rich waters are a controversial subject in the South China Sea dispute between China and Vietnam.

After having first uploaded a map of Vietnam that also showed the island groups in a Facebook post on September 9 commemorating the start of the 53rd ASEAN Foreign Minister’s Meeting that day, the embassy later edited the post and replaced the original map with a version without the islands.

Officially, the US does not recognize the unilateral sovereignty of any claimant country over the Spratly and Paracel Islands – a position that was also reiterated in a statement by the embassy. [Radio Free Asia] [VN Express]


22 September 2020

Cambodia: US sanctions Chinese-owned company for human rights abuses, corruption 

(jn) Last Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions against the Tianjin-based and state-owned Chinese Union Development Group (UDG) under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for developing the Dara Sakor tourism zone in Koh Kong Province at the Cambodian coast, in particular for “seizure and demolition of local Cambodians’ land”. UDG is also designated for falsely registering as a Cambodian-owned entity to facilitate the land deal and for pressing ahead with the development even though some of the land extends into a near National Park. 

The Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control explicitly faults UDG for advancing China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI) that like in many cases would disproportionately serve China’s interests but has forced locals from their land and devastated the environment. It claims that UDG, aided by already sanctioned Cambodian general Kun Kim, used military force to threaten and forcibly expel villagers living on the land in question. UDG had ignored both pleas by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) and orders by the Cambodian government to stop its militarized landgrab. 

Additionally, the Treasury voiced its concern that China could set up a military installation under the guise of the Dara Sakor project which could undermine stability and peace in the region. 

In 2008, UDG was granted a 99-year lease with the Cambodian government for 36.000 hectares on which the UDG then launched the $3.8 billion Dara Sakor project. As the Department also points out, the size of the grant is in violation of Cambodian law which limits land concessions to 10.000 hectares. [U.S. Treasury Department Press Release]

In an immediate response, both Cambodia and China have criticized and questioned the sanctions notification and its reasoning. [Radio Free Asia 1] [Radio Free Asia 2]

Analysts and China-skeptics have long harbored doubts about the real intentions for developing Dara Sakor, because a military facility on the area could potentially upset the whole geopolitical balance of the region. The new port at Koh Kong will be a deep-water port and large enough to potentially host Chinese frigates and destroyers, as well as other vessels of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). According to experts, the Chinese consider commercial ports as a foot in the door for their navy, i.e. any deep-water commercial port has a potential dual purpose for receiving naval ships. A Koh Kong naval base would help China significantly shore up its blue-water capabilities to project power, and would be instrumental in protecting China’s sea lines of communication and maritime trade routes through the Malacca straits.

That is why Cambodia and its coastline have emerged as a strategic frontline amid the trade war and geopolitical tensions between the US and China given Beijing’s billion-dollar infrastructure investments there that amount to $34.1 billion since 2013. Phnom Penh has become the ASEAN-member that is China’s closest partner with implications both for the harmony within ASEAN and the South China Sea dispute. If the Koh Kong project indeed turns out to be a front for a Chinese naval base, it would put Cambodia firmly in China’s strategic camp at a time when US-China tensions are ratcheting in nearby waters.

Only in June of this year and July last year, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed reports as “fake news” according to which Cambodia had granted China exclusive access to a naval base in violation of its own constitutional provisions. The latest reports, however, did not concern the Dara Sakor project, but a second compound in Ream located further east at the Cambodian coastline [see AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]. [The Diplomat 1] [Asia Times] [South China Morning Post]

UDG is not only under suspicion to be China’s toehold in Cambodia considering the shady circumstances of how the land deal come to fruition but also because satellite images have given away the construction of a 3.4 kilometer runway that is much longer than necessary for a tourist resort and similar to other Chinese military air fields elsewhere. US Vice President Mike Pence even penned a letter to Hun Sen cautioning against the project and Chinese overreach. 

Notably, the new sanctions slapped on UDG for the Koh Kong development touch on a potential military use but focus on human rights abuses and detail the (illegal) circumstances of the acquisition. This begs the question why the Koh Kong-site has come into the sanctions-crosshairs of the US at this very moment given that the development with all its surrounding problems has been ongoing since 2008 and that UDG is by far not the only Chinese-backed company that harnesses such controversial tactics. Furthermore, the Ream naval base has seen greater scrutiny in recent years for possibly being a front for a future Chinese military installation. Still, the UDG remains under credible suspicion of paving the way for a Chinese military base which is only one of many controversial aspects of the development. It is also likely that UDG is ripe fruit for a sanctions regime with which Washington aims to rein in Beijing’s quest for dominance in the region.

A Chinese naval base in Cambodia would also further encircle Vietnam in its geopolitical standoff with China over the South China Sea, and could even rouse Thailand that has been standing more aloof from the South China conflict. [The Diplomat 2]

22 September 2020

Laos considers easing immigration policy for China and Vietnam 

(py) According to Lao Phattana Daily, a local news source, the fast-track immigration policy refers to bilateral legislation between Vietnam and China that would allow certain privileges such as a waiver for the 14-day quarantine for individuals including diplomatic personnel, technical experts and foreign labor for special projects.  [Laotian Times]  

Though Laos has been having the pandemic under control with the last confirmed case reported on 14 August and a total of 22 confirmed cases since the breakout, many fear a second wave could be on the verge with illegal entries to the country. [WHO


22 September 2020

Laotian-Chinese expressway Vientiane – Vang Vieng is set to open ahead of schedule

(py) On the occasion of the 45th National Day (2 December), the Vientiane-Vang Vieng expressway is set to open ahead of its scheduled completion in 2021. The expressway is the first section of the planned Vientiane-Boten expressway which is jointly planned by the Lao government and Chinese developers, a state construction enterprise from Yunnan province to connect the Capital, Vientiane with the northern province of Luang Namtha which borders China. [Laotian times]

The agreement for Lao’s first expressway between China Yunnan Construction and Investment Holding Group (“YCIH”) and the Lao Planning and Investment Ministry was signed in Vientiane on 4 April 2018. [Xinhuanet]

22 September 2020

Philippines: Lawsuit against China over South China Sea 

(nd) Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio will legally support the team suing Chinese president Xi Jinping for crimes against humanity for illegal incursions in the South China Sea. The lawsuit was filed by Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in March 2019 before the International Criminal Court (ICC) over near permanent destruction in the West Philippine Sea claimed by the Philippines as its exclusive economic zone. The ICC stated the case might not be within its jurisdiction. However, del Rosario emphasized the described act were not only within their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but also within Filipino territory. Additionally, they cited the ramming and sinking of a Filipino fishing boat in June 2019 that occurred within their EEZ. [Daily Express] 

22 September 2020

Pakistan: Army contingent participates in opening ceremony of Kavkaz 2020 in Russia

(lm) On Saturday, a contingent of the Pakistan armed forces participated in the opening ceremony of the Russian-led military exercise Kavkaz 2020 in Astrakhan in southern Russia. From September 21 to 26, roughly 150,000 military personnel are expected to participate in the country’s largest international military drill in many years. [The Express Tribune]

Beyond Russia and fellow Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) members China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, additional foreign participants reportedly will include Mongolia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Belarus, Turkey, Armenia, Turkmenistan and Myanmar. [The Jamestown Foundation] [The EurAsian Times]

India, initially scheduled to take part with 200 troops, ultimately dropped out on the excuse that Pakistan and China were included. In what observers believed to be a compensation for New Delhi’s withdrawal from the annual capstone strategic-operational exercise, the navies of the countries held joint maneuvers near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands earlier this month [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2].


22 September 2020

India, China: With neither side backing down, troops prepare for the winter

(lm) Thousands of Indian and Chinese troops are still locked in an impasse across the mountain passes of the Ladakh region and the banks of the glacial lake Pangong Tso, with neither side backing down. After foreign ministers from both countries had pledged last week to de-escalate tensions [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3], the top commanders of the Chinese and Indian armies met on September 21 at Moldo, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The details of the 14-hour long diplomatic-military talks are yet to be announced. [South China Morning Post 1South China Morning Post 2

Chinese troops were laying a network of fiber optic cables along the lake’s southern bank, two Indian officials said on September 16, suggesting Beijing was digging in for the long haul [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. Indian intelligence agencies noted similar cables that would provide forward troops with secure lines of communication to bases in the rear to the north of the lake about a month ago. China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday denied the allegations, but said that both countries would remain in communication through diplomatic and military channels. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China] [The Straits Times 1]

Against this backdrop, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh put the blame firmly on China while addressing Parliament on September 15, saying that Beijing had flouted bilateral agreements and mutually agreed norms that had hitherto allowed both sides to keep the peace despite having diverging perceptions of the LAC. Further elaborating on the issue, Mr. Singh said that several friction areas have been created along the LAC since China began to amass troops in April and tried to disrupt the traditional patrolling pattern of Indian troops the following month [see AiR No. 21, May/2020, 4]. [The Economic Times] [South China Morning Post 3]

The minister also announced that the government has doubled the budget for border infrastructure development along the LAC. As winter is expected to arrive by the end of the month, the military has also ramped up efforts to move equipment and supplies such as winter clothing and mountaineering gear to forward locations along the LAC as troops prepare to dig in for the winter. [Hindustan Times 1]

Noteworthy, India is set to open what is believed to be the world’s longest high-altitude tunnel, which will reduce journey time to the country’s remote disputed border region in Ladakh province. In June, it became known that New Delhi was looking to complete the construction of an all-weather artery that provides a reduction in time of travel for its security forces moving to the northernmost corner of Indian territory. [The Straits Times 2] [Hindustan Times 2] [Times of India]


22 September 2020

Taiwan-USA relations: China displaying air power amid deepening Washington-Taipei relations

(ef) China sent nearly forty fighter jets and bombers into the Taiwan Strait on Friday and Saturday, with the Chinese Ministry of National Defense commenting on the move that “those who play with fire are bound to get burned”, thereby warning the US and Taiwan to not escalate the tension between China and the US as well as between Taiwan and China any further.

Beijing’s move came during the visit of US Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, Keith Krach on the occasion the memorial service for late President Lee, which continues accelerated efforts of the Trump administration in the recent weeks and months to strengthen ties with Taiwan amid high running tension with China on multiple fronts. Just last month, Taiwan and the USA announced tighter economic relations in the areas of health care, technology, and energy, with Taipei hoping to develop these relations into a free-trade agreement with the US.

Last week, the US Ambassador to the United Nations in a historic first met with the director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, Taiwan’s de-facto embassy, on Wednesday. Never before has a US Ambassador to the UN held a meeting with a top Taiwan official. According to the Ambassador, she aimed to fulfill the wishes of President Trump who seeks to strengthen and deepen bilateral relations with Taiwan. [The Diplomat (€)]

In a latest development, Washington is reportedly pushing for the sale of seven large packages of weapons to Taiwan that would include long-rang missiles able to reach distant Chinese targets. Those missiles could be used with F-16 fighter jets which will increase in numbers in Taiwan as another arms deal including sixty-six F-16’s was approved in 2019. The proposal of seven arms sales at once is unprecedented as Washington usually calibrates arms sales carefully in order to minimize tensions with Beijing. [New York Times (€) 1]  [New York Times (€) 2] [Reuters]

China’s aerial drills in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea have increased in frequency within the last couple of months as China feels noticeably more provoked by Taiwan’s actions perceived as moves to reinstate Taiwan’s independence from China. Especially, the Taiwanese support for Hong Kong after the enactment of the National Security Act on Hong Kong has been a sore spot for Beijing. However, the frequency of flights during the past week is unprecedented and marks a significant escalation in cross-strait tensions. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the entries were legal as “Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, and there is no so-called median line”. [New York Times 3] [Focus Taiwan 1] [CNN]

The Chinese nationalist tabloid Global Times, meanwhile, cited mainland analysts calling the flights are not a warning, but rather “a rehearsal for a Taiwan takeover”. Even though, neither China nor Taiwan has stated that they would fire the first shot, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced that it reserves the right to act in self-defense if the situation escalates further. Hence, Taiwanese forces on the line would be enabled to fire if China showed clear signs of hostility. Furthermore, the MND stated that the Taiwanese military had a sufficient number of precision missiles to defend Taiwan against an attack at the present moment.

The Pentagon harshly condemned the aerial intrusion and stated that Beijing was the reason for ramped up tensions in the strait. [Global Times CN] [Taiwan News] [South China Morning Post] [Focus Taiwan 2]

22 September 2020

China-Vatican relations: Bishop appointment deal to be renewed

(dql) China and the Vatican are set to renew an agreement following Pope Francis’ approval. The agreement was concluded in 2018 whose content has never been disclosed, but whose core provisions are believed to revolve around giving both sides a say in appointing Catholic bishops in China. [Aljazeera] [AiR 4/9/2018]

China is home to around 12 million Catholics who are split between a government-run association, whose clergy are chosen by the Chinese Communist Party, and an unofficial underground church loyal to the Vatican.

In an earlier move, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the Vatican that it “endangers its moral authority” in case of a deal renewal, adding that “[n]o regime suppresses faith on a larger scale than the Chinese Communist Party.” [Church Militant]

22 September 2020

Sweden not to renew space antenna contracts with China

(dql) Sweden Space Corporation (SSC), Sweden’s state-owned space company, announced that it would not renew its contracts with China, which provides China access to strategic space tracking stations in Sweden, Chile and Australia, when the respective contracts expire.

SSC cited changes in geopolitics as reason for its move which comes at a time when tensions between the USA and China grow over the latter’s advancing space capabilities – including Beijing’s increasing sophistication of its Beidou navigation network to rival the US GPS –, while Australia’s diplomatic and trade ties with Beijing have been fracturing. [Reuters]

22 September 2020

China-Canada relations: Ottawa stops trade negotiations

(dql) China-Canada continue to spiral downwards after Canada announced to unilaterally halt negotiations on a free trade agreement with China with Canadian Foreign Minister saying: “I do not see the conditions being present now for these discussions to continue at this time. The China of 2020 is not the China of 2016.”

Following efforts on Canadian side to deepen relations between Ottawa and Beijing after Justin Trudeau took office in 2015, Sino-Canadian ties begun decline after Canadian authorities detained Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in 2018 at the request of the US, which was followed by the arrests of two Canadian nationals on charges of espionage in China. With Canada’s condemnation of the Beijing’s imposed Hong Kong national security law along with a suspension of some bilateral agreements with the former British colony –including an extradition treaty – Sino-Canadian ties further strained. [Economic Times]

22 September 2020

Indonesia protests Chinese coast guard ship entering its exclusive economic zone

(dql) Indonesia last week issued a formal protest to the Chinese embassy in Jakarta about a Chinese coast guard ship entering and patrolling in its exclusive economic zone off the Natuna Islands, stressing its rejection of China’s so-called Nine-Dash Line, which Beijing uses to demarcate its claims in the South China Sea. [Straits Times] [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

China’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, insisted coast guard vessel conducted “normal patrol duties in waters under Chinese jurisdiction.” []

22 September 2020

China and Mongolia agree on deepening ties and Health Silk Road

(dql/ef) Just weeks after China replaced Mongolian language books in Inner Mongolian schools, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa, Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa and Foreign Minister Enkhtaivan Nyamtseren. The protests that ensued after the curriculum change in Inner Mongolian schools drew vast attention in Mongolia and led to protests in front of the Government Palace on the first day of Wang’s visit. However, official meeting summaries did not indicate that the topic of Inner Mongolia came up. Rather, it is stated that Wang visited Mongolia in order to strengthen cooperation in the fight against Covid-19, to extend cooperation on economic and social development, and to ensure long-term healthy and stable development of China-Mongolia ties. [The Diplomat (€)]

Meanwhile, Wang also announced last week that China and Mongolia along with Russia, Kazakstan, and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to jointly build a Health Silk Road, adding that China will provide the participating countries with support in the purchase of anti-pandemic supplies, expertise training, experience sharing and cooperation in drug development, and accelerate the building of communication mechanisms with concerned parties on pandemic information. [The Star]

22 September 2020

China-Russia relations: Caucasus drills 2020 kicked off

(dql) Russia on Monday begun its annual ‘Caucasus’ exercises, with participation of military units from Armenia, Belarus, China, Myanmar and Pakistan, while representatives from Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Sri Lanka take part as observers. The exercises, lasting until 26 September, involve around 80,000 troops and hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers, fighter jets and a flotilla of warships, with a focus on defensive tactics, encirclement and battlefield control and command. [TASS] [rfi]

China’s participation is the latest sign in increasingly close military Sino-Russia ties. India, which originally confirmed its participation, meanwhile, pulled out citing the pandemic and consequent difficulties in the exercise as reason for the withdrawal. [The Statesman] [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

For an account on the current status and future prospects of the Chinese-Russian relations, see the interview in [The Diplomat] with Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, who summarizes the basis of the strategic partnership between Beijing and Moscow in the formula “never against each other; not necessarily always with each other.”

22 September 2020

China-USA economic relations: TikTok deal 

(dql) In the latest development of the Sino-US dispute over a ban of operations of the Chinese video sharing app TikTok in the USA, President Donald Trump this Saturday announced that he had agreed to a deal between TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance and American multinational computer technology corporation Oracle and retail corporation Walmart, expressing his confidence that the future operations of TikTOk “will have nothing to do with China, it’ll be totally secure.”

Following Trump’s approval, the US announced the delay of an order to remove TikTok from Apple and Google’s US app stores from 15 to September 27, providing the firms additional time to finalize the details of the deal.

According to the deal, Oracle will provide the cloud for TikTok and become a minority investor with 12.5% stake, while Walmart has agreed to purchase 7.5% stake. ByteDance will hold the remaining 80%. TikTok’s board will consist exclusively of American citizens, with a security committee led by a person with government security clearances and both the board members and the head of the security committee needing US government approval. [Financial Times] [CNBC]

Analysts agree that the deal falls short of Trump’s demand for an outright sale of TikTok’s US arm. The prospects of estimated 25.000 jobs created and a donation of 5 billion USD by ByteDance for educational purposes are believed to have convinced Trump to agree. [BBC]

In the days ahead of the deal, economic tensions run high Beijing and Washington, with both sides trading mutual threats to sanctions each other country’s companies. On Friday, the Trump administration announced to ban TikTok and WeChat operations in the US, beginning on Sunday. In an immediate response, Beijing decried the move as “bullying” and issued new regulations on Saturday on its proposed (black)list of “unreliable entities,” including penalties such as trade and visa restrictions against foreign firms, organizations and individuals that Beijing believes violate normal market transactions in China, interrupt deals with Chinese firms or take discriminatory measures against Chinese firms. While the regulations went into immediate force, the Chinese authorities did not mention specific companies or persons targeted. [Bloomberg] [The Guardian] [Aljazeera] [Reuters]

In a separate development, American multinational technology company Nvidia’s plan to purchase Arm, a British semiconductor and software design company owned by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group, highlights the ongoing technology dispute between China and the USA. Arm’s blueprints for powering chipsets are a critical component for many Chinese smartphone makers and AI firms, so that Arm’s ownership by an American company makes a scenario with Washington placing restrictions on its business in China a very likely one. [CNN]

The deal worth 40 billion USD, however, requires regulatory approval from the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States and China. A Chinese approval appears more than questionable, with state-run Chinese news outlet being quick to cite Chinese experts voicing that the purchase’s “impact on China’s semiconductor industry is not something we want to see in the future.” [Global Times] [Reuters]

In a blow to Trump’s efforts to ban operations of Chinese messaging, social media and mobile payment app WeChat in the USA, a US federal judge has issued an injunction against his executive order against the company, citing concerns about the order violating First Amendment rights. [New York Times]

22 September 2020

China-USA military relations: US navy to be expanded?

(dql) On the heels of the US Department of Defense’s China military power report, according to which China possesses the world’s largest navy with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2], US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, has announced plans  to expand the US Navy to more than 350 ships from currently 293, with a range of unmanned and autonomous ships, submarines and aircraft. Commenting on the plans, Esper said that the aim was to equip the future fleet with “increased lethality, survivability, capability and capacity to conduct distributed warfare.” [The Guardian]

Meanwhile, the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command strongly warned of China’s “profound advantage” in ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles leaving large US bases in the Pacific  “outgunned, and underprepared, to defend” against China’s massive stockpile of ballistic and cruise missiles, specifying that Guam was a pressing concerning with “billions of dollars in defense capability” on this island and urging to swiftly replace the currently deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense by a Aegis Ashore missile defense system. [Breaking Defense]

The warning comes at a time when Sino-US tension over the South China Sea and Taiwan are high running. A fleet of 19 military aircraft from China flew into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone on Saturday, the second consecutive day of such an incursion, in an apparent signal of opposition to the visit of U.S. Under Secretary of State Keith Krach to Taiwan to attend past Saturday’s memorial service for the late Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. [Taiwan News]

Beijing, furthermore, accused Washington of disguising surveillance aircraft as civilian planes of other countries operating alongside China’s coastlines, referring to an incident early this month in which a US Air Force spy plane disguised as a Malaysian civilian plane entered the South China Sea and patrolled over the disputed Paracel Islands as well as the Taiwan Strait and the Yellow Sea near the Chinese coast. [The EurAsian Times]

For an account on dangers of misperceptions of Chinese military concepts, power and capabilities see David Logan in [War on the Rocks], who refers to three widespread myths about China’s military – China maintaining a vast hidden arsenal of potentially thousands of nuclear warheads; Beijing’s no-first-use policy being a fraud; and China having developed and deployed an array of nuclear war-fighting capabilities – and argues that a believe in these myths risks to exacerbate dangerous Sino-US nuclear dynamics.

22 September 2020

China-USA diplomatic relations: Beijing accuses Pompeo of smear campaign 

(dql) China has condemned comments of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made at his stop in   Suriname during his last week’s South American tour which also took him to Guyana, Brazil and Columbia, accusing him of “smearing and spreading rumors about China” and urging him to “respect facts and truth, abandon arrogance and prejudice,” after Pompeo warned against Chinese investments saying “it all seems great at the front end and then it all comes falling down when the political costs connected to that becomes clear.” [U.S. News]

22 September 2020

China: Successful rocket sea launch

(dql) China launched a Long March 11 rocket from an ocean platform in the Yellow Sea last week, successfully sending nine satellites into orbit. It is China’s second ocean-based launch, following a first Long March 11 sea launch in summer 2019. China is only the third country to perform a sea launch, following the U.S. and Russia. [Space]

22 September 2020

Singapore: Chinese tech firms expanding

(nd) Amidst growing tensions with the US, China’s biggest technology firms, Alibaba and Tencent, are expanding their operations in Singapore, giving it the potential for a Chinese tech hub. ByteDance will be investing billions of dollars in the city state. When investing in foreign countries, the regional headquarter acts on behalf on the parent company, covering the actual Chinese investment. In 2020, South East Asia surpassed the EU as China’s largest regional trading partner. [BBC]


22 September 2020

China reduces crude imports

(dql) China, the world’s largest importer of crude oil, has slowed down its import of crude oil in September, after it imported record volumes in May and June, taking advantage of the low oil prices in April. The slow down is an indication that Chinese refiners in China are having problems to find buyers for refined products locally produced.  [Oil Price]

In a related development, Chinese customs announced amendments to regulations to supervise crude oil imports, allowing cargoes to clear customs prior to completion of quality inspections. The new regulations will be effective from 1 October and aim at increasing efficiency of customs clearance in response to key import oil terminals suffering heavy congestion between May and August when record crude volumes arrived in the country. [Investing]

22 September 2020

China: Xinjiang white paper

(dql) In the wake of mounting international criticism of the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3], where it is accused of forced labor and the detention of at least 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities in internment camps, China’s State Council, the country’s cabinet, has published a white paper on the development of labor rights and workers’ rights in the remote Western province showcasing the government’s measures to promote employment and protect labor rights in this region.

Vocational trainings were among those measures, provided to an average of nearly 1.3 million urban and rural workers every year from 2014 to 2019 as part of a concerted campaign to elevate workers’ education and skills, with around one third of them coming from Southern Xinjiang. Rejecting claims of forced labor. The report accuses “certain international forces” of “ideological bias and prejudiced against China” and of “applying double standards in Xinjiang, criticizing ‘breaches of human rights’ while ignoring the tremendous efforts Xinjiang has made to protect human rights.” [Xinhua]

In a move, echoing the white paper’s rejection of international criticism of its Xinjiang policy and defying US sanctions, the Chinese Communist Party has promoted Xinjiang’s police chief Wang Mingshan to be a member of the party’s standing committee in Xinjiang. Wang was among the officials who were sanctioned by the USA in July over allegations of being implicated in forced labor in the region. His promotion comes shortly after the Trump administration announced that it would block imports of goods from five companies based in Xinjiang over concerns about forced labor. [South China Morning Post 1] [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2] [AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

For critical views on the white paper’s numbers arguing that the presented data indicate forced labor rather than disperse the forced labor claims see [South China Morning Post 2].

22 September 2020

China/Hong Kong: Freedom House award goes to protest movement

(dql) Along with two other groups from Sudan, the Hong Kong protest movement has been given the US government-funded democracy watchdog Freedom House’s 2020 Freedom Award. The organization cited as reason for the awarding the inspiration to world as “[t]wo million have turned out to stand together in defense of the rights and freedoms they are supposed to enjoy under Hong Kong law.” [Freedom House]

Freedom House has been presenting its annual Freedom Award since 1943. Recent Chinese regime-critical awardees include Uyghur activist Ilham Tohti (2019) and Chinese human rights activist Chen Guancheng (2013).

Speaking at the awarding ceremony, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activist Nathan Law – in self-exile since the promulgation of the Hong Kong National Security Law – warned that “using engagement and appeasement strategies to engage with China” to bring about a democratization of the country is wishful thinking, with China turning increasingly “authoritarian […] using its sharp and soft power to penetrate the protection of the democracies, and to infiltrate into these countries to discredit and dismantle democracies.” [Hong Kong Free Press]

Adding to concerns over the impact of the national security on judicial independence in Hong Kong, an Australian veteran Judge resigned from the Court of Final Appeal, the city’s top court, which he has served as a non-permanent judge since 2013, citing unspecific reasons linked to the security legislation. The resignation comes two years prior to the official ending of his terms. [Bloomberg]

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary, the city’s no. 2, defended before the international community the national security law at the UN Human Rights Council arguing that the legislation was an effective tool to safeguard law and order and the residents’ freedoms against violent anti-government protests. [South China Morning Post]

22 September 2020

Asian financial leaders agree to make ‘all policy efforts’ to fight pandemic

(jn) Financial leaders from China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia vowed on Friday to redouble their efforts to help the region recover economically from the coronavirus and to defend a multilateral system of trade and investment. In a joint statement they vowed to “remain vigilant to the continued downside risks [and to take] steps to reduce vulnerabilities to these risks and […] to continue to use all available policy tools to support the sustained recovery.” They also said they remain committed “to uphold an open and rule-based multilateral trade and investment system, and strengthen regional integration and cooperation.”

The statement followed the annual meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors from China, Japan, South Korea and the 10-member ASEAN. The meetings were held via teleconference on the sidelines of the annual gathering of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). [Reuters]

22 September 2020

Asia: Rise in discrimination due to Covid-19 

(nd) A recent survey conducted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) highlights that the spread of Covid-19 gave rise to discrimination towards vulnerable communities in Asia. The survey asked 5,000 people in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Pakistan, with half of the asked people blaming Chinese people, immigrants and foreigners for the spread of the virus. Also, “illegal foreigners” were blamed, linking it to the arrests of undocumented migrants and refugees made by Malaysian authorities. United Nations warned this policy might deter vulnerable groups from seeking treatment.

Higher education obtained by the interviewees made it only slightly less likely for them to hold the above-mentioned groups responsible in all of the surveyed countries. [Reuters]

15 September 2020

Philippines: “Fast lane” for Chinese workers 

(nd) The governments in Manila and Beijing agreed to a “fast lane” for Chinese personnel working in projects under the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program.

At the moment, there are 70 projects fully or partly financed by China through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), mainly infrastructural and transportation projects, involving roads and bridges, airports, seaports, railways, communication and flood control. [Manila Times]


15 September 2020

Indonesia: Chinese Vessel driven off EEZ 

(nd) The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency reported to have driven off a Chinese coast guard vessel from Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in the North Natuna Sea. The agency claims that the ship insisted it had the right to patrol the so-called nine-dash line. The line is meant to denote Chinese territorial claims, in particular regarding fishing grounds, in the South China Sea. It is, however, disputed by most countries in the region, including Indonesia, and a frequent source of tension between China and her Southern neighbors. 

In 2016, an international tribunal dismissed the nine-dash line as legally baseless. In 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rejected the nine-dash line and granted Indonesia sovereign rights to the natural resources in its EEZ. Based on the convention, an arbitral tribunal ruled in 2016 China had no historic rights to these waters.[Jakarta Post]


15 September 2020

Vietnam: U.S., Mekong ministers meet amid latest rivalry with China 

(jn) U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and foreign ministers from five Southeast Asian countries along the Mekong River held the first Mekong-U.S.-Partnership Ministerial Meeting on Friday, discussing ways to deepen their partnership amid the latest frictions with China over the 4,350-kilometer river. Mr. Biegun announced $153 million in US funds for the region, among other things $55 million for the purpose of combating transboundary crime and $1.8 million to support data sharing on Mekong River water resources.

During the group’s inaugural meeting, Mr. Biegun claimed that the current drought suffered in the Mekong downstream area during the past two years has been caused by China that has built 11 dams in the upstream area. A report published in April by the U.S.-based Eyes on Earth shows that China’s upstream dams have been holding back 47 billion cubic meters of water, likely being the cause for severely disrupting a river that feeds more than 60 million people. [Kyodo News] [Nikkei Asian Review]

15 September 2020

India, China: External Affairs Minister Jaishankar meets Chinese counterpart

(lm) Indian and Chinese troops were facing off on Wednesday, barely a few hundred meters apart in at least four locations south of the Pangong Tso lake. Both countries had previously accused each other’s soldiers of firing warning shots on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), violating a 1996 no-fire agreement and further escalating military tensions in the Himalayan border region. The same day, Indian and Chinese military representatives met to amicably de-escalate the tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh but the talks were “inconclusive”. [South Asia Monitor] [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2] [The Straits Times 1]

Against this backdrop, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit on Thursday. Upon noting that “the current situation in the border area is not in the interests of both sides,” India and China pledged to de-escalate tensions along their disputed Himalayan border. The meeting was followed by a luncheon meeting of the foreign ministers of the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping. [South China Morning Post]

On Sunday, Beijing released five Indian nationals it detained earlier this month in a region bordering Tibet, with China’s state-backed Global Times saying that the five were Indian intelligence agents dressed as hunters, disputing claims that they had been kidnapped. On June 5, the Indian Army used a military hotline designed to help defuse border tensions to inquire about allegations that five men had been abducted by the People’s Liberation Army from the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is also claimed by China (South Tibet) [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]. [The Straits Times 2]

15 September 2020

Pakistani Taliban reunification might pose threat to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

(lm) While peace negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul are still underway [see e.g. The Straits TimesThe Diplomat], Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has announced its reunification with three formerly estranged factions – a move that analysts say could pose a security risk to projects linked to the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in northwestern Pakistan. [Nikkei Asian Review 1] [News Live TV]

Founded in 2007 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the TTP is a designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) that draws its ideological views from al-Qaida. Until they splintered in 2014 over internal rifts within the TTP leadership, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, the Hizb ul-Ahrar and Hakeemullah Mehsud group were the three major factions in the TTP. Last month, it was announced the militant outfits would reunite, and also being joined by a faction of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned terror group operating in the western province of Balochistan. [The Straits Times]

The group’s initial footprints were in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and in semi-autonomous tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s army has conducted a series of operations since 2014, forcing the group to take sanctuary over the border in Afghanistan. Islamabad claims the terrorist network has now set up command and control structures in both Kunar and Nangarhar provinces in eastern Afghanistan to attack Pakistani security forces. Experts say it is possible the TTP will use its sustained militant presence along the border to create a buffer zone between Afghanistan and Pakistan to, once again, declare a state of the Pakistani Taliban, which hosts Islamist foreign fighters. [Voice of America] [The Diplomat]

Pakistan’s military on Sunday claimed to have killed a key militant commander along with his three accomplices near the Afghanistan border, describing it a major breakthrough in ongoing security operations against suspected terrorists. [Anadolu Agency]

The TTP’s reunification has put China in a tight spot, given the fact that they were pressing Pakistan to crack down on ethnic separatist groups in Balochistan and Sindh due to projects linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a part of the BRI. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s remote areas, Chinese companies are involved in several development projects, mainly in the field of hydro-electricity generation and infrastructure, such as the Karakoram Highway Phase II. To advance Beijing’s interest in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt, Chinese officials have reportedly stepped up contacts with Afghan Taliban representatives, offering to build a road networks in Taliban-controlled territories as well as energy projects, provided the militants can ensure peace in Afghanistan after the US military withdrawal. [Financial Times] [Nikkei Asia Review 2]

15 September 2020

Taiwan-USA: Upcoming visit of US Undersecretary angers China 

(ef) A visit of the US Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, to visit to Taiwan for economic talks scheduled for later this week, has prompted fierce opposition by China, warning that the planned meeting would cause “serious damage” to Sino-US relations as well as to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and calling on Washington to halt official exchanges with Taipei. [Associated Press]

Signaling improving and strengthening US-Taiwan relations, the visit will come shortly after the one by US Health Secretary Alex Azar last month, marking so far the highest-level U.S. Cabinet official to visit Taiwan since the USA ended formal ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China in 1979. [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]

In a related development, Taiwan’s 2021 Defense budget proposal submitted to the parliament reveals that visits of Taiwan defense officials to the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office are scheduled for next year, with the aim to discuss closer military and strategic cooperation to develop innovative ways to counter emerging threats. Originally, the visit was scheduled for 2020, but cancelled due to the pandemic. [Focus Taiwan]

15 September 2020

Cross-strait relations: China’s large-scale exercises in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone

(ef) Last week, China conducted large-scale joint air and naval exercises in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, as two dozen Chinese military aircraft and naval ships operated in an area between Pratas and Taiwan’s south-western coast, prompting Taiwan to denounce the move as a “severe provocation,” and to warn that China “should not overlook the Taiwanese people’s will to preserve their freedom and democracy.”  

The move has been called the most serious threat to Taiwan’s security since the 1996 crisis in the wake of a series of missile tests conducted by China in the waters surrounding Taiwan and believed to be an attempt to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate in ahead of the 1996 presidential election. 

Analysts view the exercises as an attempt to broaden the Chinese operating space, thus squeezing the Taiwanese buffer zone. Such air defense buffer zone is unilaterally declared and their standing under international law is unclear. Entry into such zones is not illegal under international law, however it is politically condemned.

The operation confirms concerns that the People’s Liberation Army would increase military pressure, once the pandemic was under control in China. Unlike other recent Chinese provocations, this one was not a response to any US military activity, therefore potentially indicating a more serious threat as China becomes more aggressive. [Financial Times] [The Diplomat ($)] [Focus Taiwan 1]

In addition to the exercises, a reconnaissance vessel of the People’s Liberation Army was spotted off the Taiwanese east coast for the second day in a row. The occurrence takes place just as Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology is testing missiles. [Focus Taiwan 2]

15 September 2020

China bans import of pork from Germany

(dql) Following Germany’s first case of African swine fever, China has banned pork imports from Germany, third-largest exporter of pork to China. The ban is likely to considerably hit Germany’s pork industry, with exports to China worth amounting to around 1.2 billion USD annually. 

In response to the ban, the German government confirmed that it is in talks with China over a ban only on imports of pork coming from the region in which an ASF case was found, replacing the blanket national import ban. [Deutsche Welle]

15 September 2020

China-Germany relations: German government adopts policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region

(lm) On Wednesday, Germany’s Federal Foreign Office unveiled a major strategic shift by announcing an Indo-Pacific strategy that suggests a reassessment of Berlin’s traditionally Beijing-friendly foreign policy. Germany is the second European nation to use the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a geographical and strategic construct in foreign and security policy discourse, following France which adopted its Indo-Pacific strategy in May 2019. The new guidelines foreground maritime security cooperation, human rights, and the diversification of the country’s economic partnerships in the region in order for it and its regional partners to “avoid unilateral dependencies.” [Federal Foreign Office] [full document (in German) Federal Foreign Office].

Context and timing of the announcement are noteworthy. On July 1, Germany assumed the EU Council’s six-monthly rotating presidency, putting it in a position to shape the bloc’s approach to the Indo-Pacific throughout the remainder of its term. In light of Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas call for a unified European approach to China [see European Council on Foreign Relations], the EU is expected to come out with its Indo-Pacific vision soon [see e.g. The Economic Times]. On September 14, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is currently chairing the European Union Council, together with European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joseph Borrell, met with China’s President Xi Jinping for a summit through video link. [Council of the European Union]

The announcement further comes in the wake of a five-nation European tour by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi [see e.g. South China Morning Post 1]. His colleague Yang Jiechi, the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission, was also visiting Spain and Greece last week [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1] [South China Morning Post 2].

As the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore afresh the importance of diversification away from trade and supply chain dependence, India, Japan, and Australia are all reconsidering their dependence on China in strategic sectors, in many ways mirroring the debate in Europe. In August, the three nations agreed to move towards a “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative”, after Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry had first broached the idea with the Indian government. [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

While some observers have argued that the new policy paper “unmistakably signals Europe’s growing reassessment of its approach to China” [see The Diplomat or Nikkei Asian Review] or even a potential convergence of German and US foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific [see Global Times], in his commentary, Andreas Fulda notes that Berlin’s Indo-Pacific strategy offers no critical self-reflection about existing shortcomings of Berlin’s previous China engagement. Acknowledging that diction and focus of Germany’s Indo-Pacific strategy varies significantly from the US approach, he finds the new guidelines lacking a tentative clue as to how Germany aims to address existing power imbalances in the region. [RUSI]

15 September 2020

China-Germany relations: German government adopts policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region

(lm) On Wednesday, Germany’s Federal Foreign Office unveiled a major strategic shift by announcing an Indo-Pacific strategy that suggests a reassessment of Berlin’s traditionally Beijing-friendly foreign policy. Germany is the second European nation to use the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a geographical and strategic construct in foreign and security policy discourse, following France which adopted its Indo-Pacific strategy in May 2019. The new guidelines foreground maritime security cooperation, human rights, and the diversification of the country’s economic partnerships in the region in order for it and its regional partners to “avoid unilateral dependencies.” [Federal Foreign Office] [full document (in German) Federal Foreign Office].

Context and timing of the announcement are noteworthy. On July 1, Germany assumed the EU Council’s six-monthly rotating presidency, putting it in a position to shape the bloc’s approach to the Indo-Pacific throughout the remainder of its term. In light of Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas call for a unified European approach to China [see European Council on Foreign Relations], the EU is expected to come out with its Indo-Pacific vision soon [see e.g. The Economic Times]. On September 14, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is currently chairing the European Union Council, together with European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joseph Borrell, met with China’s President Xi Jinping for a summit through video link. [Council of the European Union]

The announcement further comes in the wake of a five-nation European tour by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi [see e.g. South China Morning Post 1]. His colleague Yang Jiechi, the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission, was also visiting Spain and Greece last week [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1] [South China Morning Post 2].

As the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore afresh the importance of diversification away from trade and supply chain dependence, India, Japan, and Australia are all reconsidering their dependence on China in strategic sectors, in many ways mirroring the debate in Europe. In August, the three nations agreed to move towards a “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative”, after Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry had first broached the idea with the Indian government. [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

While some observers have argued that the new policy paper “unmistakably signals Europe’s growing reassessment of its approach to China” [see The Diplomat or Nikkei Asian Review] or even a potential convergence of German and US foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific [see Global Times], in his commentary, Andreas Fulda notes that Berlin’s Indo-Pacific strategy offers no critical self-reflection about existing shortcomings of Berlin’s previous China engagement. Acknowledging that diction and focus of Germany’s Indo-Pacific strategy varies significantly from the US approach, he finds the new guidelines lacking a tentative clue as to how Germany aims to address existing power imbalances in the region. [RUSI]

15 September 2020

China-EU agreement on geographical indications signed amid differences over Xinjiang

(dql) On Monday China and the European Union announced the signing of an agreement on the mutual protection of 100 European Geographical Indications (GIs) in China and 100 Chinese GIs in the European Union against usurpation and imitation. The announcement was made during a virtual conference which replaced the China-Germany-EU leaders’ meeting – originally planned to be held in Leipzig but cancelled due to the pandemic – and which was attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU Council President Charles Michel, and European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen.

At the conference, both sides agreed on the conclusion of a trade agreement, with Brussels demanding that Beijing opens the Chinese market for foreign investments and Xi Jinping confirming to speed up negotiations. 

In response to demands to allow investigations of China’s treatment of minorities in Xinjiang, Xi appeared less conciliatory, calling criticism of Beijing’s Xinjiang policies an interference in domestic affairs and insisting that “Europe could find good solutions to its own problems.” China, however, “doesn’t accept a lecturer on human rights.” [Deutsche Welle] [Bloomberg Quint]

15 September 2020

Chinese and Russian forces to join Caucus 2020

(dql) In a latest sign of ever-growing military cooperation between China and Russia, the Chinese Defense Ministry announced that Chinese and Russian forces will conduct joint military exercises in the frame of “Caucasus 2020” in southern Russia from 21-26 September, with a focus on defensive tactics, encirclement and battlefield control and command.

Further countries taking part in these drills include Armenia, Belarus, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan and others. [CBS News]

15 September 2020

China-Australia relations: Diplomatic dispute over Australian journalists 

(dql) Sino-Australian relations continue to spiral downwards, after the Chinese government has accused Australian consular officials of obstructing and disrupting the normal law enforcement activities of Chinese authorities by providing shelter to two Australian journalists last week.

The two China correspondents, working for the ABC and the Australian Financial Review respectively, were flown out of China following a diplomatic standoff after Chinese state security services sought to interview them on another Chinese born Australian journalist detained in August over charges of endangering national security. [The Guardian] [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

Canberra, meanwhile, confirmed that four journalists working for Chinese state media were raided in June by Australian security agencies. The raid was revealed by Beijing in response to criticism of the treatment of the above mentioned two Australian journalists. [Aljazeera]

15 September 2020

China-USA relations: Tensions over visas restrictions deepen 

(dql) The United States has revealed that it has so far revoked over 1,000 student visas of Chinese nationals it believes are linked to the Chinese military, since the implementation of President Trump’s proclamation in May to restrict the entry of certain Chinese students and researchers to the USA suspected of being used by Beijing for stealing sensitive U.S. technologies and intellectual property. [Reuters]

China decried the move, accusing the USA of “outright political persecution and racial discrimination.” [NBC].

In retaliatory move, Beijing announced that it will impose restrictions on all American diplomats in China. [Aljazeera]

The announcement comes also on the heels of new regulations introduced by the US government under which senior Chinese diplomats are required to obtain State Department approval before visiting US university campuses or holding cultural events with more than 50 people outside mission grounds. [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]

15 September 2020

China-USA relations: Washington to block products from Xinjiang

(dql) In a move further escalating already high running Sino-US trade tensions, the USA is about to block the import of cotton and tomato products from China’s western region of Xinjiang over suspicion of forced-labor involvement in the production of these goods, as the US Customs and Border Protection is preparing withhold release orders.

Under President Trump, Washington has steadily stepped up its pressure on Beijing over its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, where China is accused of running internment camps with more than one million Muslims believed to be held there and put to work. China rejects these claims and calls the camps vocational training centers needed to fight extremism.

In a strongly worded response, China accused the USA of using the orders as a pretext to “oppress Chinese companies, destabilize Xinjiang and slander China’s Xinjiang policy.” [Reuters]

Meanwhile, defying US President Donald Trump’s threats of US-Chinese decoupling and of sanctions against US companies, which outsource jobs to China, US firms operating in China are overwhelmingly not considering to leave China, with more than 90% of more than 340 firms saying that the plan to remain in the country, responding to a survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. [CNN]

Observers argue, that while at least partial decoupling from China is not only rhetoric, but a real policy option for President Trump to stop reliance on China – esp. in the area rare earths, medical equipment and technology – Beijing will not give in and will develop its own systems of trade, finance and technology to defend its interests. [CNBC 1]

For an assessment of China’s chances to build up its own semiconductor industry see Arjun Kharpal in [CNBC 2]

15 September 2020

China: Reusable spacecraft successfully tested

(dql) China successfully completed the launch of a reusable experimental spacecraft after it safely landed after two days in space. China’s media outlets celebrated the flight as a major “breakthrough” in reusable spacecraft research paving the way to “offer convenient and low-cost round-trip transport for the peaceful use of space.” [Space] [Xinhua]

15 September 2020

Laos’ economic, and thus political, dependence on China growing  

(jn/py) The $6 billion China-Laos highspeed railway is on track for completion in just over a year, with the first train scheduled to arrive on December 2, 2021. However, as a partner in China’s Belt and Road Iniative (BRI) Laos seems to have become the latest victim to its so-called debt trap whereby nations are pressed into making sovereignty-eroding concessions after defaulting on their infrastructure-related debts owed to Beijing. Laos has borrowed heavily to invest in several Mekong River hydropower projects as well as the $6 billion high-speed rail project, a key link in China’s BRI design to connect its southern province of Yunnan with mainland Southeast Asia. Since the entailing financial obligations of the railway project seem to have become untenable, the Lao government is now being forced to sell state assets like the majority control of the national electric power grid to a Chinese state-owned enterprise.[The Lao Times 

Électricité du Laos (EDL), the state-owned power grid, and China Southern Power Grid  (CSG), one of China’s state-owned power grids, agreed on a joint venture, Électricité du Laos Transmission Company Limited (EDLT). [The Economist 1] Laos’ foreign exchange reserves have fallen below $1 billion, less than the country’s annual owed debt payments, putting the country on the verge of a sovereign default. News reports suggest that the Lao Finance Ministry has asked China, its biggest foreign creditor with around 45% of Lao’s foreign debt owed to China in 2019 [The Economist 2],  to restructure its debts to avoid defaulting.

Last month, Moody’s downgraded Laos to junk territory, from B3 to Caa2, and changed its outlook on the country from neutral to negative due to “severe liquidity stress.” [Asia Times]

Though Laos could approach the International Monetary Fund under its COVID-19 Financial Assistance and Debt Service Relief response, the government made clear that they preferably resort to China as IMF agreement would require greater financial transparency. [Bangkok Post]  In 2019, Laos was reported as a country with no significant progress in the 2019 Fiscal Transparency Report by the U.S. Department of State. [U.S. Department of State]

15 September 2020

India: Parliament reopens with the government bracing for debate over coronavirus, border-standoff with China

(lm) Indian lawmakers returned to the nation’s Parliament on Monday after a five-month absence, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the nosediving economy and a tense border standoff with China setting the stage for a turbulent 18-day session. Opposition parties protested the cancelling of the question hour – in which lawmakers seek direct replies from ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries – saying that the move takes away the opportunity to grill the government on its policies. [The Hindu] [The Straits Times] [Al Jazeera]

Against the backdrop of ongoing Chinese incursions in the northern region of Ladakh [see e.g. AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2], Defense Minister Rajnath Singh is expected to make a statement in Parliament on Tuesday. The session will also include rolling out measures to mitigate rising unemployment caused by an economy that contracted by 23.9 percent in the second quarter – the biggest contraction among major economies. [One India] [Hindustan Times] [NY Times]

15 September 2020

Taiwan: KMT cancels visit to China 

(ef) After Chinese state media announced that the opposition Kuomintang’s visit to China to attend this year’s Straits Forum was aimed at “suing for peace”, the party announced that it would cancel the visit of the event scheduled to open this week, citing what it called “inappropriate comments”, damaging mutual trust.

The Straits Forum is an annual forum between Mainland China and Taiwan and the largest non-political platform aimed at fostering grassroots interaction in the areas economy, trade and culture across the Taiwan Strait. 

After uninterrupted attendance of the forum since its inception in 2009, this year’s boycott reflects the KTM’s current struggle to walk a thin line between upholding ties with China and coping with an increasingly China-skeptical public in Taiwan in the midst of a reform process of the party following the heavy defeat in the January presidential election. [Taipei Times] [Macau Business]


15 September 2020

China: Protests against reducing Mongolian as teaching language in Inner Mongolia quashed

(ef) The school strikes in the past weeks that were aimed against reducing Mongolian as teaching language in favor of Mandarin in schools in Inner Mongolia [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2] have been successfully quashed by Chinese authorities, with parents sending their children back to school without further public complaints and the new textbooks being used. [Financial Times] [Manila Standard]

15 September 2020

China’s global lead in coronavirus vaccine development 

(dql) China has approved the phase I human testing for a nasal spray vaccine, the latest Covid-19 vaccine candidate and the 10th candidate from China to enter the stage of human testing, reflecting the country’s lead in the global vaccine development, with around 35 other candidates currently in human testing. [Bloomberg][Vox]

For an account on the major role of the military in the Covid-19 vaccine development in China see Dyani Lewis in [Nature], while Sui-Lee Wee in [New York Times] provides insights into China’s vaccine pledges to countries across the globe, in an attempt to send “powerful signal of China’s rise as a scientific leader” in the emerging post-Covid 19 global order.

15 September 2020

China: Setback for LGBT movement

(dql) Shanghai Pride, China’s longest-running and only major annual celebration of sexual minorities, last week announced that it will halt its parade, with the reasons not disclosed by the organizers. It is, however, believed that the organizing team members have been facing pressure from government authorities, signaling that, while homosexuality is not illegal in China and was dropped from the list of mental disorders in 2001, sexual minorities continue to experience persistent discrimination and prejudices from the Chinese government and the public. [South China Morning Post] [CNN]

15 September 2020

China: Xi Jinping critics detained and standing trial 

(dql) A prominent publisher who has expressed support for Xu Zhangrun, a Chinese legal scholar and outspoken critic of the President Xi Jinping, has been detained, officially over suspicion of running “an illicit business”. 

Critics, however, view the arrest as punishment for the publisher’s defense of Xu and as an attempt to deter support for regime-critical voices. [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1]

Meanwhile, construction tycoon and offspring of an important family of revolutionary leaders Ren Zhiqiang is standing trial over official charges of appropriation of public funds and abuse of power committed when he was serving as manager of a state-owned enterprise. Observers, however, believe that the real reason for his trial is his open critic of President Xi Jinping in an online article in which he alluded to the President as “power hungry clown,” and following which he was put under investigation in April.  [Asia News] [AiR No. 15, April/2020, 2]

15 September 2020

China: Pressure against Chinese government’s Uighur treatment in Xinjiang mounting

(dql) Accusing the Chinese government and Chinese senior official of crimes against humanity, torture and genocide, the “East Turkistan Government in Exile,” and the “East Turkistan National Awakening Movement”, two organizations of Uighurs, have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC), in a historic first attempt to use international law to hold Beijing accountable for its alleged mistreatment of the minority group in Xinjiang. [NBC]

The Chinese government has been facing increasing pressure over its repressive policies and measures against the Uighurs in Xinjiang, in particular over internment camps in which more than one million Uighur Muslims are believed to be held for political and ideological indoctrination. In latest moves, over 130 British lawmakers condemned Beijing’s “ethnic cleansing” in Xinjiang in letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, while more than 300 civil society groups have called on the United Nations to establish an international watchdog to address human rights violations by the Chinese government in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and  Tibet and beyond. [Bloomberg] [9 News]

China has consistently rejected these allegations, insisting that these camps are vocational training centers established to counter Muslim extremism and separatism. [Global Times]

For an account of growing criticism of China’s Xinjiang policy in Muslim and Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia see Nithin Coca in [Foreign Affairs] who argues that Beijing “has painted itself into a corner” by its actions in Xinjiang and risks to “bedevil its foreign relations with the Muslim world in the years to come.”

8 September 2020

Taiwan and USA to reshape supply chains away from China

(ef) In the middle of the strengthening of Taiwan-USA relations, the American Institute in Taiwan, the de-facto US embassy in Taiwan, said that the reorganizing of supply chains will be ‘on top of the list’ for a new economic dialogue between the US and Taiwan. The risks of relying on China became increasingly obvious amid the US-China trade war and the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, the American Institute in Taiwan urged like-minded democracies to build secure and resilient global supply chains. Taiwan’s foreign minister stated that the Taiwanese government already planned on the diversification of supply chains in the semiconductor, medical, and energy industries. He also suggested that medical or IT goods could be “politicized or weaponized in the hands of a country that does not honour the rule of law and democracy,” called on cooperation between like-minded democracies and decrease global reliance on China. [Financial Times] [Focus Taiwan] [South China Morning Post]


8 September 2020

Philippines sending signs of de-escalation in SCS tussle with China

(nd) In the ongoing conflict with between China and the Philipines over the control of sea zones, Phil. Armed forces Chief Gapay stressed the continued pursuit of a peaceful solution. While Philippine officials maintain that China has committed breaches of their territorial integrity and have protested against what has been called Chinese provocations in the region, the Duterte government maintains that the country will not join the US in blacklisting or terminating existing contracts with Chinese companies involved in the ongoing construction and improvement of artificial islands in disputed sea zones. This applies, among others, to the Sangley airport project, a flagship project and joint venture of the Philippines and a Chinese state-owned construction company said to also be involved in the construction of the disputed artificial islands. Amidst voices within the government and from the opposition calling for sanctions to be imposed, Defense Secretary has also recently signed a cooperation agreement with Chinese-backed telecommunications provider, which would allow the latter to build cell sites within Philippine military camps. [Manila Standard]  [Phil Star 1] [Phil Star 2] [Rappler]

8 September 2020

Malaysia not to extradite Uighurs to China

(nd) Malaysia will not follow requests by China to extradite ethnic Uighur refugees but allow them to passage to a third country. [Malay Mail]

For the Chinese Uighurs, a Turkic group adhering to Islam, South East Asia has become a major transit point to Turkey. Human Rights Watch accused China of a “systematic campaign of human rights violations” against Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region by incarcerating them in “political re-education” camps. China denies the charges and asserts the Uighurs are educated in “vocational training centers”. The entire region seems inclined to kep a strategic silence on the issue in light of China’s rising strength and military showcasing. [Zee News] There have been requests to extradite Uighurs earlier and the Prime Minister has been criticized for remaining silent on the subject. [Republic World]

Meanwhile, Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong called to boycott the Disney movie “Mulan”. Parts of the movie were shot in Xinjiang region and the credits included “special thanks” to government entities and the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda department in Xinjiang. [Free Malaysia Today]

8 September 2020

Myanmar among China’s likely additions to overseas facilities; China pushes on implementation of CMEC

(nd) In an annual report titled “Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China (PRC) 2020” submitted to the US congress, China highly considered several locations for addition overseas facilities in Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola and Tajikistan, US Department of Defense said.  As part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Myanmar and China agreed on constructing the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) deep seaport project, granting China direct access to the Indian Ocean and thereby bypassing the Strait of Malacca. [Irrawaddy 1] Due to the importance of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) as part of the BRI, Beijing pushes Myanmar to implement the plans. In a recent visit, diplomat Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC)’s Central Committee and director of the committee’s Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission urged Myanmar to move faster and announced a 200 million yuan (39.33 billion kyat) grant for helping the western Rakhine State. [Irrawaddy 2] Since 2017, China played a mediating role between Myanmar and Bangladesh with respect to the Rohingya conflict.

Yang and State Counselor discussed China’s debt service suspension to ease Covid-19 consequences and he later met with the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, neither discussion content was made public.

8 September 2020

Pakistan, China: Xi Jinping cancels Pakistan visit as chairman of the CPEC faces corruption allegations

(py) In an eleventh-hour decision, Beijing cancelled a visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to all weather ally Pakistan, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the postponement. The announcement comes in the wake of corruption allegations leveled against Lieutenant General (retired) Asim Saleem Bajwa, chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority. [The Economic Times]

An investigative report published by news source FactFocus last month claimed that Mr. Bajwa did not declare his wife’s stake in US pizza chain “Papa John’s”. Moreover, journalist Ahmed Noorani in the report alleged that Mr. Bajwa had founded offshore businesses for his wife, sons and brothers using his office. [Pakistan Today 1] [South China Morning Post 1] [News Intervention]

In a press release, Mr. Bajwa categorially denied allegations of financial misappropriation levelled against him on Thursday but decided to step down as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information and Broadcasting shortly thereafter. Prime Minister Imran Khan however rejected the request. In addition, his ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party characterized the allegations as an attack on the CPEC Authority and started a social media campaign named #IndianProxiesAttackCPEC. [South China Morning Post 2] [The Diplomat] [Pakistan Today 2]

In May, a committee formed by Prime Minister Khan had for the first time lifted the lid on corruption by unveiling “inflated” costs in major energy projects involving Chinese power producers in Pakistan. [AiR No. 20, May/2020, 3]

8 September 2020

India, China accuse each other of firing shots at Line of Actual Control

(lm) China and India on Tuesday accused each other’s soldiers of firing warning shots on their disputed border in the Himalayas, violating a 1996 no-fire agreement and further escalating military tensions in the Himalayan border region. Beijing initially claimed Indian soldiers had crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at the strategic outpost of Pangong Tso – a glacial lake at 4,242m – on Monday and opened fire as part of a “severe military provocation”, forcing Chinese troops to take “corresponding counter-measures.” New Delhi was swift to reject the allegations of violating border agreements and accused Chinese border forces of firing in the air to intimidate Indian troops in what it described as a “grave provocation”. [The Guardian] [Al Jazeera]

Prior to the events, in what Indian military sources last Wednesday called a stealth night-time operation to “thwart Chinese intentions”, on 29 August New Delhi had mobilized additional forces to occupy strategic heights and features along the south bank of Pangong Tso where the two sides have been locked in a face off since April [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]. Thousands of Indian soldiers had climbed up mountain peaks for about six hours when they saw the Chinese forces had made some ingress, violating existing agreements. China denied that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops had breached the LAC and instead accused Indian soldiers of trespassing. [South China Morning Post 1] [The Straits Times]

During the operation, one member of the Special Frontier Force (SFF) was killed and another was injured in a landmine blast. Special Frontier Force (SFF) is a paramilitary unit consisting mainly of Tibetian refugees that is believed to have been established following the 1962 war between India and China. [South China Morning Post 2]

On the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Moscow last week, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, held “frank and in-depth discussions” to settle the dispute. While a statement issued by India said the two ministers had agreed to ease tensions, both sides blamed the other for the fresh conflict. Originally, the SCO meeting had been scheduled to be held in July but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting marked Mr. Singh’s second visit to Moscow within just two months, after he had participated in the Victory Day parade on 24 June [see AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5]. Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is expected to visit the Russian capital for a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the SCO on Thursday this week. [The EurAsian Times] [ABP] [Hindustan Times]

On June 5, the Indian Army used a military hotline designed to help defuse border tensions to inquire about allegations that five men had been abducted by the People’s Liberation Army from the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is also claimed by China (South Tibet). India’s Minister of State for Minority Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who is also a lawmaker from Arunachal Pradesh, had earlier tweeted that the alleged abduction happened on 3 September near the border but not provided more details. China later said it was not aware of the specific case and its circumstances. [South China Morning Post 2] [The Straits Times 2] [bbc]

In light of the events, India banned another 118 Chinese phone apps on Wednesday as a way to strike back against Beijing. After the clashes in June, which involved hundreds of soldiers battling each other with rocks, sticks, clubs and bare fists, India had banned 59 mobile apps including TikTok, ShareIt and Tencent’s WeChat, citing security concerns [see AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5]. [NY Times] [Financial Express]


8 September 2020

China-Czech Republic relations: Czech president criticizes country’s senate president for visit to Taiwan

(ef) In a move to soften the tensions between China and the Czech Republic over the recent visit of a delegation to Taiwan led by the President of the Czech Senate Milos Vystrcil, the Czech President Milos Zeman called the trip a ‘boyish provocation’ and announced that he will stop sending invitations to Vystrcil to attend meetings with the country’s top foreign policy officials. 

The visit prompted China to state that the Czech senate leader would ‘pay a heavy price’, which in turn led to the Chinese ambassador being summoned to Prague. [Reuters] [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]


8 September 2020

China-Afghanistan relations: Beijing offers building road network in return for peace

(dql) Signaling China’s growing efforts to deepen its foothold in Afghanistan, Beijing has offered to build a road network for the Taliban under the conditions they can ensure peace in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US military, with prospects of further investments in energy projects. 

The offer comes after recent Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians in the past weeks have questioned the sustainability of the peace deal signed in February between USA and Nato under which all troops would withdraw within 14 months if the militants uphold the deal. [Financial Times]

Last week, at least three members of Afghan government forces were killed in a Taliban attack on a military base in the eastern city of Gardez. The attack came after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s appointment of a 46-member council for national reconciliation, which will decide whether the government will sign a peace deal with the Taliban after what are believed to be tedious and difficult  talks with the armed group set to begin soon in Doha. [Aljazeera]

In a latest development, the Taliban on Tuesday launched an attack in the Shahr-e-Ghulghula area of Abshar district of Panjshir province, taking seven government forces as hostage. Panjshir, home of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, an anti-Taliban resistance leader, has been considered one of the two safest provinces in the country. [Gandhara]

8 September 2020

China-Russia relations: Closing ranks against USA

(dql) In a symbolic move signaling China and Russia close relations, the Chinese and the Russian ambassadors to the USA jointly commemorated the respective 75th anniversary of the end of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and of the end of World War II. In a thinly veiled criticism of both countries’ rival USA, the ambassadors reassured in a joint statement that the “basic norms of international relations, such as the inviolability of sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and non-interference into their internal affairs, should be respected. And multilateralism should be put into practice.” [Xinhua]

The statements comes as in a highly provocative move further straining already frosty US-Russian relations, Washington – for the first time since the presidential election in Belarus on August 9 – has openly pledged to support for the protests in Minsk and announced that it will work with the European Union to increase pressure on embattled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to hold new elections. In response, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov decried “the pressure that a number of foreign states are now trying to exert on the legitimate authorities of Belarus, openly supporting the opposition dissatisfied with the results of the presidential election.” [Politico] [euronews]

For an account of reasons why China supports Russia in Belarus see Brian G. Carlson in [The Diplomat] who argues that in the Belarus crisis Sino-Russian relations will stick to the pattern of close cooperation that has emerged in the recent years.

Meanwhile, Russia has started work on an 11 billion USD polymer plant project which will produce plastic components for the Chinese market. One of the world’s largest polymer plants, located in Amur near the Chinese border in Russia’s Far East, it is joint project between Russian Sibur Holding petrochemical company and Chinese giant Sinopec Group, demonstrating growing economic ties, next to diplomatic, strategic and military cooperation and relations. The plant is expected to begin production in 2024. [RadioFreeEurope]

For insights into a speculated Sino-Chinese cooperation on the new design of a non-nuclear submarine including a combination of Chinese and Russian technology and systems, see H. I. Sutton in [Forbes].

8 September 2020

China-Australia relations: Australian journalist evacuated 

(dql) Two Australian foreign correspondents working for ABC and Australian Financial Review in China have been urgently flown home after avoiding a travel ban by agreeing to be interviewed by the Chinese police on Chinese-born Australian TV host at a state-run English news channel who was detained over suspicion of “engaging in criminal activities endangering China’s national security.” [AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]

The incident, which leaves Australia’s media without any journalists working in China for the first time in almost 50 years, is the latest in a string of recent signals of increasingly strained relations between China and Australia over disputes over an inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong’s national security legislation and trade restrictions on Australian products. [The Guardian]

8 September 2020

China: Advancing drone technology

(dql) China has launched its first international standard for unmanned aircraft systems, which focuses on the categorization and classification of civil unmanned aircraft systems, the basis for the safe operation protocols for the drone industry. The launch of the international standard makes China a global leader in the drone sector, paving the way for a further global expansion of Chinese drone firms, such as DJII, a Shenzhen-based manufacturer of drones for aerial photography and videography commanding more than 70% of this sector globally, or Ziyan UAV, a Guangdong-based drones manufacturer, cited by the above mentioned Defense report which states that this company showcased “armed swarming drones that it claimed use AI to perform autonomous guidance, target acquisition, and attack execution.” The report also acknowledged that China made achievements in AI-enabled unmanned surface vessels, believed to be used to patrol and bolster its territorial claims in the South China Sea, and also tested unmanned tanks in research efforts to integrate AI into ground forces’ equipment. [China Daily] [Defense One]

For an account of the usage of Chinese military drones in the Libyan conflict and the strategic implications of that, see Ryan Oliver in [Jamestown Foundation: China Brief] who warns that China “is leveraging its UAV production to erode the United States’ position as the partner of choice in the arena of international security,” and that this lever in combination with a US pullback from international engagement will put China in a position to “compete for the coveted status of security partner of choice that the United States has long enjoyed in many parts of the world.” 

8 September 2020

China-USA military relations: US DoD’s report on military power in China 2020

(dql) Amid ongoing discussions over a cut of the military budget for fiscal year 2021, the US Department of Defense has released its Annual Report to Congress “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” which emphasizes the strategic competition with China as a revisionist power by stating that the Chinese Communist Party considers China as “embroiled in a major international strategic competition with other states, including, and in particular, the United States,” while China’s foreign policy “seeks to revise aspects of the international order on the Party’s terms and in accordance with ideas and principles it views as essential to forging an external environment conducive to China’s national rejuvenation.” [Department of Defense, USA]

It confirms that China’s military has undergone a massive transformation and modernization in the past decades and has been able to surpass the USA in certain areas, acknowledging that China possesses the “largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines, including over 130 major surface combatants,” while at the same time planning to increase its current estimated number of 200 nuclear warheads to 400 until 2030. [Department of Defense, USA] []

The report also warns that China continues to develop and acquire offensive space technologies “designed to restrict/destroy the enemy’s” satellites. [EurAsian Times]

For an assessment of the report see Michael E. O’Hanlon at [Brookings] who acknowledges that “China has a clear grand strategy with specific goals,” but does not believe that Beijing “has decided that the maximization of those objectives is worth a high risk of war.“ China “will more likely be opportunistic,” meaning for the USA “to push back with an integrated mix of military, economic, and diplomatic responses to various attacks, probing actions, or coercive actions that China may (and will) attempt in future years.”

8 September 2020

China-USA relations further worsen

(dql) The USA announced new regulations under which senior Chinese diplomats would be required to obtain State Department approval before visiting US university campuses or holding cultural events with more than 50 people outside mission grounds, the latest move in an escalating wrangle between China and the USA over diplomatic missions. Earlier in July consulates in China and the USA were closed. In February and June, Washington designated Chinese media outlets as foreign missions requiring those to comply with rules which apply to foreign embassies and consulates in the United States, too. [The Guardian]

In a separate move, the White House has requested US government agencies to submit extensive details of any funding that “seeks to counter China’s global influence and business practices, or supports Beijing,” a move which the US White House Office of Management and Budget declared as an effort “to ensure that the United States remains strong and in a position of strength against rival nations like China.” [Reuters]

Furthermore, the Trump administration announced that it is mulling to impose export restrictions on the Chinese company Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, China’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors, and to add the company to the Commerce Department’s entity list, which forbids those companies to obtain specific goods made in the United States without prior US government approval. The U.S. entity list currently includes more than 300 China-based companies. [CNBC]

In a latest move, US President Donald Trump – with the presidential election campaign in full swing – has reiterated that he is open to decoupling the US economy from China as a measure to end US reliance on China. Further steps he vowed to take include bringing jobs back from China to the United States as well as imposing tariffs on firms outsourcing jobs to China and other countries. [Reuters]

China, meanwhile, announced that it has launched a global data security initiative after laying out principles that should be followed in areas ranging from personal information to espionage, in an attempt to increase its standing as international standard setter amidst continuing US and other countries’ accusation of Chinese technology firms posing a threat to national security. Core elements of the new initiative include not using technology to impair other countries’ critical infrastructure or steal data as well as guaranteeing that service providers don’t create backdoors in their services and products and illegally obtain user data. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, while presenting the new initiative, reiterated China’s criticism of the USA, saying that “[b]ent on unilateral acts, a certain country keeps making groundless accusations against others in the name of ‘clean’ network and used security as a pretext to prey on enterprises of other countries who have a competitive edge.” [CNBC]

“Clean network” refers to Washington’s recently launched global campaign to exclude Chinese telecoms firms, apps, cloud providers from internet infrastructure used by the US and other countries.

In a separate move, the Chinese government, has frozen applications for press credentials renewal for foreign journalists working for American news organizations in China, including CNN, the Wall Street Journal and Getty Images. It has also indicated that it will proceed with expulsions in case the USA takes further action against Chinese media employees in the United States. The actions and threats are the latest moves of continuing tit-for-tat reprisals between Washington and Beijing over news media organizations. [New York Times

8 September 2020

China: UN urges review of Hong Kong national security legislation

(dql) Adding to international criticism of Hong Kong’s national security law, a group of seven special rapporteurs of the UN expressed in a letter to the Chinese government their rejection of Hong Kong’s new national security law as it “poses a serious risk to fundamental freedoms and due process protections” and urged China to review the legislation to ensure it complies with China’s international obligations regarding such matters. Main concerns of the rapporteurs refer to “the broad scope of the crimes defined as secession and subversion; the express curtailment of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association; the implications of the scope and substance of the security law as a whole on the rule of law; and the interference with the ability of civil society organisations to perform their lawful function.” [Aljazeera]

8 September 2020

Taiwan: New passport design released

(ef) Amid increased cross-strait tensions, Taiwan’s government has released a new passport design which highlights the word ‘Taiwan’ and minimizes the words ‘Republic of China’, Taiwan’s official name. Beforehand, the words ‘Republic of China’ and ‘Taiwan were of equal size and font. Officially, the design change is made to reduce confusions between travelers from Taiwan and those from China, as Taiwanese citizens are allowed to visit 146 countries visa-free, whilst Chinese citizens are only permitted visa-free entry to 74 countries. However, the new passport design is widely seen as a highly symbolic way to emphasize Taiwan’s independence. When the word ‘Taiwan’ was added to the passport cover a decade ago, China responded angrily, thus a negative reaction from China is to be expected. [Focus Taiwan] [New York Times ($)] [Forbes]

8 September 2020

Taiwan: KMT to uphold ‘One China’-policy

(ef) At its National Congress held at past wekend, the main opposition Kuomintang (LMT) announced that it will adhere to the 1992 consensus as the fundament of its policy towards China. After the landslide defeat of the KMT in January’s presidential election, especially younger party members had called on the party to abandon the consensus as part of a wider process of reforming the KMT.

The “1992 consensus,” a tacit understanding reached between the then-KMT government and the Chinese government in 1992, is interpreted by the KMT as both sides of the strait acknowledging that there is only “one China,” with each side free to interpret what “China” means. Beijing, however, has never publicly recognized or rejected the second part of the KMT interpretation.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under President Tsai Ing-wen has criticized that the consensus is “a mere illusion” arguing that China refuses to acknowledge the idea of each side being free to interpret “one China” as it sees fit, resulting in China’s hardline stance against Taiwan and Beijing cutting off diplomatic channels since Tsai assumed office in May 2016. [South China Morning Post] [Focus Taiwan]

8 September 2020

China: New restrictions on teaching Christianity 

(dql) China is set to implement a new set of regulations under which foreign teachers teaching Christianity are required to refrain from proselytising without permission and to stay clear of “evil cult practices”, an umbrella term for banned new religions. Breaching the regulations would lead to cancellation or denial of visas, while new incoming foreign teachers will have to undergo 20 hours of political indoctrination in different areas including China’s development, laws, professional ethics and educational policies.

Reinforcing these new regulations, authorities have also proposed a national social credit system to score foreign teachers on what they do and say – inside and outside the classroom, while the public security department in the southern province of Hainan has announced rewards of up to more than 14.000 USD for reporting leading to the arrest of foreigners who engaged in religious activities without official approval including religious teaching, evangelizing and networking. [Yahoo News Singapore]

In a related development, police and government officials raided a summer camp of a house church in the province of Henan, confiscating chairs, desks, along with a projecting device. The church’s pastor and his wife were arrested. The raid is part of an investigation to crack down on non-approved religious activities, announced in late August and lasting until September 20. [CBN News]

The move has deepened concerns over accelerating efforts of the Chinese government to suppress religions and to ‘Sinicize’ them. [The Week]

8 September 2020

China: Beijing’s hardline response to protest against reducing Mongolian as teaching language in Inner Mongolia

(dql/ef) In response to what a Mongolian human rights organization called a “a massive, nonviolent, civil disobedience resistance movement” of ethnic Mongolians against a new regulation of the Chinese government to reduce Mongolian as language of instruction in schools in Inner Mongolia, the Chinese police has conducted a search operation for protesters, in an attempt to  “firmly crack down on illegal activities related to the new regulation,” according to a notice of an Inner Mongolian public security office. Furthermore, government officials and Communist party members are threatened with expulsion from the party if they do not send their children back to school, while Mongolians will become automatically ineligible for social benefits for the same offense. [Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center] [Wall Street Journal] [The Diplomat ($)]

The central government, meanwhile, insisted that the protest was caused by misinformation about the new regulation, adding that the use of the Mongolian language, textbooks and the bilingual education system will not change while the new regulation reflects efforts to strengthen the “common language of a country [as] a symbol of its sovereignty, and it is every citizen’s right and responsibility to learn and use it.” Echoing this, China’s Public Security Minister, who was present in Inner Mongolia at the time of the protest, called on the security authorities to “fight against separatism, firmly implement anti-terrorist measures, and promote stability and harmony in the ethnic and religious fields.” [Global Times]

Critics of this move view it as part of an assimilationist education policy within the frame of a nation-wide drive to promote ‘ethnic unity’, with some having even termed this development a ‘cultural genocide’ against the Mongolian minority in China. [Human Rights Watch] [BBC

8 September 2020

China/Hong Kong: Protest against election postponement

(dql) Defying a police ban, Hong Kong protesters took to the streets in the former British colony on Sunday to demonstrate against the government’s decision to postpone Legislative Council (LegCo) election – originally planned for exactly Sunday, 6 September – for a year on grounds of public health risks due to the coronavirus. The delay of the election is seen among the democratic camp as a politically motivated maneuver to prevent the opposition from possibly winning its first-ever majority in the LegCo, given its landslide victory in last year’s district council elections in which it won 17 out of 18 districts. The police arrested close to 300 protestors for violating the new security legislation and for attending an illegal assembly. [South China Morning Post] [BBC]

1 September 2020

Indonesia: police foil terrorist plot targeting shop owners in areas with Chinese communities

(lm) A terrorist plot to attack shop owners in areas of Indonesia that are home to ethnic Chinese communities has been foiled, a senior security source said on Thursday. Between April and August, police arrested 17 suspected members of the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, further seizing firearms and bullets.

Jemaah Islamiyah is a militant extremist Islamist rebel group dedicated to the establishment of an Islamic state in Southeast Asia. The group was behind the 2002 Bali bombings and was afterwards added to the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 as a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Since the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, attacks had fallen off. Between June 1 and August 12, a total of 72 terrorism suspects from both Jemaah Islamiyah and Jemaah Ansharut Daulah – an Islamic State affiliate and rival to Jemaah Islamiah – had been arrested.

In recent years, informal extremist charities began to proliferate in Indonesia, offering support for the families of incarcerated or killed members of Islamic terrorist organizations, while government deradicalization programs often failed to succeed. Last week, a woman believed to be the wife of terror fugitive and leader of East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) Ali Kalora had been arrested and charged under the anti-terrorism law for concealing information about a terror fugitive. [AiR No. 21, May/2020, 4] [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

1 September 2020

Top Chinese diplomat to visit Myanmar

(lm) Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politburo Member and Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, is scheduled to visit Myanmar this week, as China continues to challenge India`s dominance. [ISEAS] [South China Morning Post]

China is currently regarded as playing with fire in relation to two of Myanmar’s insurgent groups. In an implicit reference to Beijing, the Myanmar commander-in-chief alleged in July that domestic terrorist groups were being backed by ‘strong forces’. A military spokesperson later clarified that the army chief was referring to the fact that fighters from the Arakan Army (AA) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had used Chinese-made weapons in a 2019 attack. [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

1 September 2020

Thailand to establish land passageway under China`s Belt and Road

(lm) Thailand is looking to construct a land passageway that would permit ships to bypass the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, influencing the new emerging security architecture in the Indo-Pacific. The project would be connected to the various Chinese infrastructure and connectivity projects in the region.

A narrow sea lane along Peninsular Malaysia`s southwest coast and extending east past Singapore, the Strait of Malacca is currently the shortest sea route linking the Asia-Pacific region with India and the Middle East. About a quarter of the world`s traded goods pass through it each year. Moreover, as much as 80 percent of China’s fuel imports currently pass through the crucial maritime chokepoint.

First envisioned in 1677, the establishment of a modern Kra or Thai Canal has been been put forward and dismissed several times over the past few decades. While a canal traversing the narrow isthmus that connects Thailand to Peninsular Malaysia would cut shipping time by more than two days, Thailand plans to build two deep seaports on either side the country`s southern coasts, and link them via highway and rail, according to Transport Minister Saksiam Chidchob. [South China Morning Post]

1 September 2020

South China Sea: Philippines warn China of invoking Mutual Defense Treaty with United States

(lm) Amid ongoing tensions with China, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr warned on Wednesday that Manila would invoke its seventy-year old Mutual Defence Treaty with the United States in the event of a Chinese attack of naval vessels in the South China Sea. Mr. Locsin further said that the Philippines will continue air patrols over the Spratlys in the South China Sea (SCS), ignoring Beijing`s calls to stop what it had described earlier as “illegal provocations”. [The EurAsian Times]

Just days earlier, China had confiscated a Filipino fishing vessel near the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal which Beijing has occupied since 2012. In response, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had called the alleged historic rights invoked by China to justify its maritime claims in the SCS a fabrication. [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times] [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

Earlier this month, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered the Philippines` navy not to join US-led military exercises in the South China Sea, with analysts describing it as a move to trade Manila’s maritime claims with a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine [see AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]. More recent developments, though, seem to reflect Manila’s shifting geopolitical calculations as previous warming-ups with Beijing have proven unsuccessful and China’s strategic opportunism over the past six months has fueled anxieties over Beijing’s expansionism. For an apt analysis of the Philippines change of heart, see Jay L. Batongbacal`s article in [ASEAN Focus pp.24f.]

1 September 2020

China, Southeast Asian leaders meet to discuss the Mekong`s plight

(lm) At a time when the Mekong River’s health is in dire straits, leaders from China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam gathered on Monday for a virtual summit, the third leader’s meeting for the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) platform. During the summit, Chinese Premier Li Keqian promised that Beijing would henceforth share the Lancang River’s hydrological data with the Lower Mekong countries. [The Diplomat]

Established in 2016, the LMC is a sub-regional cooperation mechanism that brings together the riparian countries of the vital waterway, which begins in China as the Lancang then traverses Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For a second year in a row, the Mekong River is at a record low, with water levels across the Lower Mekong Basin down by two-thirds and rainfall for the three months of the current monsoon also down by about 70 percent.

Starting in the mid-1980s, Beijing has since constructed 11 giant dams along the mountainous territory of the Upper Mekong to sustain its ever-increasing energy needs. In April this year, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – representing Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand – refuted a previously published US-funded report that had accused China of deliberately holding back water, significantly contributing to the major drought impacting the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. Despite denying the allegations, however, the MRC did call on China for greater transparency in its water data.

In March this year, five provinces in Vietnam’s Mekong delta region had declared a state of emergency in face of continued extreme drought and salinity. A result of lobbying from international NGOs and internal reporting, shortly thereafter, the Cambodian government announced a decade-long dam moratorium on the mainstream of the river. The Cambodian moratorium leaves Laos, which commissioned two major dams in 2019, as the only Lower Mekong country pursuing hydropower on the mainstream of the river. [AiR No. 12, March/2020, 4] [AiR No. 10, March/2020, 2]

Beyond the Lancang/Mekong River`s plight, leaders on Monday also talked about strengthening their cooperation on public health, food supply chains, and a post-COVID-19 recovery of the region’s tourism industry. [TTR Weekly]

1 September 2020

India’s and China’s vaccine diplomacy toward Bangladesh

(ls) India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla promised neighboring Bangladesh priority access to a Covid-19 vaccine produced by India on the occasion of a visit to Dhaka two weeks ago. The “vaccine diplomacy” comes after China made a similar offer to Bangladesh, and Dhaka allowed Chinese Sinovac to conduct vaccine trials in the country. The case illustrates another dimension of the two great Asian powers’ competition for economic and political influence in South Asia. [Straits Times] [see also AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

In a separate development, India and Bangladesh have agreed to open a new element of regional connectivity by expanding the scope of inland water transport mechanisms. The operationalization of new routes is expected to facilitate bilateral trade, with improved reliability and cost effectiveness. [Economic Times]

1 September 2020

India-China: New flare-up of border tensions

(ls) On Monday, India and China accused each other of provocative troop movements along the two countries’ border in the Himalayas. Details on the confrontation have not been made public. It also remained unclear whether there were any casualties, suggesting the incident may have been of a minor scale. However, the fact that a statement was issued by India’s Defense Ministry may also indicate more serious fights. China rejected the accusation that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops had breached the border. In June, a violent confrontation left 20 Indian soldiers dead with unspecified casualties on the Chinese side. [Reuters] [Nikkei Asian Review]

The most recent flare-up followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for strengthened border defense at the Central Symposium on Tibet Work, a top-level national meeting dedicated to Tibet, over the weekend. Two weeks ago, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Tibet. [AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3] Meanwhile, India and China have both reinforced their troops along the border. China has held live-fire drills on the Tibetan Plateau. [South China Morning Post]

At the same time, observers have pointed to strategic shortcomings in India’s defense policy and described it as being dominated by an orthodox offensive doctrine of the Indian Army, that propagated using force in large formations. The doctrine may be seen as unfit to meet current strategic challenges as nuclear deterrence has made major conventional war unlikely and new technologies have redefined the military state of the art. In addition, China’s new military might may still need to be included more clearly in the Indian Army’s strategic considerations. [The Print]

1 September 2020

Cross-strait tensions intensify as Chinese war game commences

(ef) With the Chinese navy mobilizing for its war games in the South China Sea, the Taiwanese marine corps were sent to strategic spots in the South China Sea and the Taiwanese air force began to load Harpoon anti-ship missiles on some of its F-16 fighters. The war games are supposed to take place between the Chinese mainland on the north and the Taiwanese island groups, Pratas and Penghu, in the south and northeast. Taiwanese preparations are perceived as a protective measure against the possibility of the war game turning into an actual invasion. In that event, the F-16 fighters would be the first line of defense. Especially Pratas is perceived as a weak spot; thus, Taiwan sent 200 of its toughest marines to permanently strengthen Pratas’ force. [Forbes]

Meanwhile, a maintenance hub for F-16 fighters was unveiled last week, which enables Taiwan to self-reliantly maintain its air force. The Taiwanese air force currently holds the largest F-16 fleet in Asia, with more than 200 jets. [Reuters] [New York Times ($)]

The Beijing’s war games take place in times of high cross-strait tensions underlined also by the recent launching of two Chinese missiles in the South China Sea following the entry of a US spy plane in a no-fly-zone over Chinese live-fire military drills. In addition to the spy plane entering a no-fly-zone, a picture of a US Air Force tanker refueling a Taiwanese F-16 fighter jet was posted on Thursday, showcasing the strengthened military cooperation between the US and Taiwan. [CNN] [CNBC][Focus Taiwan]

1 September 2020

China-Czech Republic relations strained over Taiwan

(dql) A Czech delegation of 90 business leaders, university presidents, representatives of civic organizations and news media led by the president of the Senate Milos Vystrcil visited Taiwan last week. In a highly provocative move towards China, Vystrcil in his speech at Taiwan’s parliament said: “I am a Taiwanese.”

China responded fiercely, calling the visit “an unendurable provocation for which there will be retribution.” [Deutsche Welle] [Reuters]  

The visit of the Czech delegation comes shortly after the White House sent US Health Secretary Alex Azhar to Taipei in August for the highest level meetings between the two administrations in more than four decades. [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]

1 September 2020

China-Australia relations worsen further

(dql) Further worsening already strained relations between China and Australia over Canberra’s call for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced that it has launched an anti-subsidy investigation of some wine imports from Australia, in response to a complaint filed by the China Wine Industry Association. 

Australia is the biggest exporter of wine to China, with more than 800 million USD in the most recent financial year, which ended September 2019. [CNN]

In a separate development, a Chinese-born Australian TV host at a state-run English news channel has been detained in Beijing, with the reason for her detention remaining undisclosed so far. [ABC]  

1 September 2020

Canada cancels Covid-19 vaccine development agreement with Chinese vaccine candidate 

(dql) Past weekend, the Canadian government announced that it cancelled its multi-million-dollar development deal with China’s leading vaccine candidate, citing delayed shipment of drugs as reason. While China confirmed the delay, it is speculated whether Ottawa’s move is a snup to China over the arrest of Canadian nationals Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig who are charged with spying. Canada views their arrest as retaliatory move of Beijing in response to the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, on a U.S. extradition warrant in December 2018. Since then, Sino-Canadian relations have been increasingly strained, reflected also by Canada’s recent suspension of its extradition treaty with Hong Kong following Beijing’s imposition of the national security law for the former British colony. [Republic World]

In a related development, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne pressed his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to release the two Canadians citizens in a meeting in Rome during the Chinese Foreign Minister’s visit to Italy last week. Wang in return accused Canada on an “unprovoked detention of Chinese citizens” and demanded that Ottawa “take[s] action as soon as possible to remove impediments to the further development of China-Canada ties.” [Reuters]

1 September 2020

China und USA resume talks of Phase 1 trade deal amid further US sanctions against Chinese companies

(dql) Amid high running tensions over a wide range of issues – including threats of bans on Chinese tech companies, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, Taiwan – China and the USA have resumed talks about the Phase 1 trade agreement which was concluded in January. Both sides confirmed to have made progress and to be committed to the deal. Issues discussed during the talks covered intellectual property rights, impediments to American companies in financial services and agriculture, and forced technology transfer. [BBC]

Meanwhile, Washington imposed sanctions against two dozen Chinese companies and several people banning them from purchasing technology and other products shipped from the U.S. The affected are believed by Washington to be involved in building and militarizing disputed artificial islands in the South China Sea. Among the sanctioned state-owned firms are construction giant China Communications Construction Co., a subsidiary of the China Shipbuilding Group, and a telecommunications company. [VoA]

Despite high running trade and economic tensions between China and the USA and strong decoupling rhetoric on US side, experts view a separation of the world’s two largest economies as unrealistic. Last week, the former president of the International Monetary Fund and the head of the Center for China and Globalization, a leading Chinese think tank, expressed in separate statements their doubts about a decoupling of the economies, citing the close economic ties between the two countries, and arguing that the recent tough rhetoric of US President Trump is much owed to the upcoming presidential election in the USA. [Forbes] [Independent]

For an analysis of China’s grand strategy and its component strategies on the national level in  diplomacy, economics, science and technology, and military affairs, how they will develop over the next decades and what they mean for the Sino-US competition – depending on how successfully China will implement these strategies – see the study at [Rand Corporation].

1 September 2020

China continues military muscle flexing

(dql) In a show of force, China has kicked off two sets of military exercises off the country’s east coast in the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea. They are part of a series of military war games since the end of July, including at least nine drills, with some involving live rounds, in the South China Sea and East China. [Republic World]

China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier CNS Shandong has begun its first sea trials, while the KJ-600 carrier based airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft performed its first flight, making the country the only one besides the USA to have successfully developed such a platform. [Eurasian Times] [Military Watch Magazine]

China’s first home-grown Type 075 amphibious assault ship, meanwhile, completed its 18-day first-phase navigational trial. The Type 075 would enable the Chinese navy to launch various types of helicopter attacks on naval vessels, enemy ground forces, submarines and to deploy landing craft and troops, in addition to house command and control operations. The warship is expected to join the Chinese navy’s marines next year. [Navy Recognition]

1 September 2020

China: Hongkongers fleeing for Taiwan on boat captured by Chinese coastguard

(dql) China’s coastguard last week arrested a dozen people fleeing on a speedboat Hong Kong for Taiwan. Among them was an activist arrested earlier this month over suspicion of collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security, a crime under the contentious National Security Law for Hong Kong imposed by Beijing on 30 June. [Channel News Asia

1 September 2020

China: Using high tech to control legal enforcement

(dql) The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, China’s agency overseeing, all legal enforcement authorities, announced plans to use high tech to monitor and supervise the country’s police officers and judges, including big data for an automated system which identifies procedural violations in investigations, trials and enforcement work.

While the Commission said that the plan aims at tackling lax enforcement of the rules, injustices and corruption to strengthen the security system, the announcement comes shortly after launch of an “education and rectification” campaign to purge corrupt cadres in legal enforcement agencies, adding to concerns over a further expansion of China’s controversial surveillance system. [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

1 September 2020

China: Beijing tightens grip on Tibet and Inner Mongolia

(dql) Indicating fresh efforts of the central government to tighten its grip on Tibet, President Xi Jinping, speaking at a work meeting of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee last week, stressed the need for a new strategy to govern Tibet and deepen the promotion of coordinated economic, political, cultural, social and ecological advancement there. To this purpose, he called for the establishment of a “impregnable fortress” to maintain stability in Tibet and protect national unity, underpinned by political and ideological education in Tibet’s schools which “plants the seeds of loving China in the depths of the hearts of the young people,” adding that “Tibet’s traditional Buddhism needed to be sinicized.” [Xinhua, in Chinese]

For the geostrategic importance of Tibet for China (and for India) see [AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3].

Meanwhile, in a rare move ethnic Mongolians in northern China have staged rallies to protest against new rules to reduce teaching in the Mongolian language in favor of Chinese in three subjects – including  politics, history, and language and literature – before completely switching to Chinese. [BBC]

The measure deepens fears that Beijing is gearing up its efforts to assimilate the Mongolian minority in China, mirroring developments in Xinjiang and Tibet.

In a related development, Bainu, the only Mongolian-language social media site in China, was shut down last week by Chinese authorities. [Vice]

25 August 2020

Vietnam and Philippines push back against Chinese claims in South China Sea

(jn/ls) Vietnam’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that the presence of Chinese bombers on the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea would jeopardize peace in the region and violate Vietnam’s sovereignty. China has boosted its presence in disputed parts of the strategic waterway in recent months and conducted exercises, further heightening tensions in the longstanding conflict at a time when other claimants are battling coronavirus outbreaks. Only recently, intense Chinese pressure had led to cancellations of drilling contracts of Vietnamese companies with international corporations. [South China Morning Post 1] [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]

The Philippines’ Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana accused Beijing of illegally occupying Filipino maritime territory surrounding the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. The Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a diplomatic protest. In addition, Lorenzana said that China’s nine-dash line used to claim most of the South China Sea is a fabrication. In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague did not recognize the nine-dash-line under international law. [PhilStar] [Inquirer]

Possibly also having this precedent in mind, Vietnam submitted a list of nominated arbitrators to the U.N. Secretary General earlier in May. For the first time in the history of the country, a foreign international law expert was among the nominated persons, a professor from the National University of Singapore’s Centre for International Law. Moreover, in November last year, a Vietnamese diplomat announced that his country was considering to bring China to arbitral court over Chinese intrusions into Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in particular the oil-rich Vanguard Bank. [VERA Files]

However, China argues that ASEAN claimants are bound by the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea which requires them to settle the dispute bilaterally rather than through multilateral bodies such as the U.N. However, as the sea dispute is becoming a proxy arena for the strategic battle between China and the U.S., Southeast Asian countries may feel emboldened to take legal action. [South China Morning Post 2]

In June, Singapore and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) signed a model agreement recognizing the city-state as an alternative seat for the tribunal. [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3]

25 August 2020

Pakistan-China relations: Beijing and Islamabad deepen economic and military ties

(lm) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week hosted his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, for the second round of the China-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue. As both nations remain locked in border stand-offs with their mutual neighbor India, both China and Pakistan reaffirmed the vitality of their partnership, and agreed to continue their support on issues concerning each other`s core national interests. [Anadolu Ajansı]

To begin with, both countries agreed to push ahead with new rail and power projects under the $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement. The top diplomats also talked about the ongoing peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, praising both sides for their efforts to initiate intra-Afghan negotiations. On Tuesday, Pakistan`s Foreign Minister invited the Chinese special envoy for Afghanistan for talks with a delegation of Taliban leaders to be held the same day in Islamabad. [Bloomberg]

In the wake of the diplomatic talks, the Pakistan Navy said on Sunday that China had launched the first of four “most advanced” warships that are built in China for Islamabad. [South China Morning Post] [Hindustan Times]

While welcoming the representatives of leading Chinese companies, Pakistan`s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday emphasized the need for deeper economic ties between the two countries, and invited the Chinese entrepreneurs to establish their regional offices in Pakistan. [DAWN]

25 August 2020

India is working on balancing against Chinese influence in Myanmar

(dql) For Delhi, China’s rise forms a constant challenge to India’s dominance of its backyard currently tested in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. After India’s foreign minister visited Bangladesh last week to work on bilateral ties, Myanmar is the next country on India’s wooing list, a country where India and China compete for dominance.

Timing seems well for the Indian chief diplomat though. First, from a Myanmar perspective, India has handled its role in mediating between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Rohingya issue rather well. Second, China is currently regarded as playing a dangerous role in relation to two of Myanmar’s insurgent groups. On July 2, the Myanmar commander-in-chief referring to the Arakan Army (AA) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) alleged that terrorist groups in the country were being backed by ‘strong forces’ implying China. A military spokesperson then clarified the army chief was referring to the fact that AA and ARSA fighters had used Chinese made weapons when attacking the armed forces in a 2019 attack.

Another pain point Delhi could press has been revealed by Myanmar’s auditor general who had raised alarm over loans from China: “The truth is the loans from China come at higher interest rates compared to loans from financial institutions like the World Bank or the IMF” he was quoted, adding: “So, I would like to remind the government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.” Other criticism came up with regard to Chinese investment projects like the Muse-Mandalay Electric Railway built by a Chinese company or plans to erect a new Yangon city in cooperation with China.

These disturbances notwithstanding, China is present in the country as well and has also been working on deepening its ties with Myanmar with President Xi Jinping having visited the country at the beginning of the year.

To make things even more complicated, geostrategy and domestic politics are increasingly intertwined with Myanmar’s generals inclined to quest the Chinese card which becomes more attractive for Aung San Suu Kyi after having been put under pressure by the West over the Rohingya issue. [The Week]

25 August 2020

India, Japan, Australia: Increasing supply chain resilience to reduce dependence on China

(lm) As the coronavirus pandemic has already brought to the fore the importance of diversification away from trade and supply chain dependence, Japan, India and Australia are now moving towards a new trilateral effort, in face of simmering trade and political tension with China. Informal talks have been ongoing since Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry first broached the idea of a “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative” with the Indian government around a month ago. Because Tokyo is eager to bring the talks to a higher level, the proposal is expected to be discussed further during the India-Japan summit in early September. [The Economic Times] [The Print]

The proposal centers around a two-stage plan, which aims at attracting foreign direct investment to turn the Indo-Pacific into an “economic powerhouse” by linking up all the separate existing bilateral relationships, such as the recently established Indo-Japan Industrial Competitiveness Partnership. Moreover, the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) may be brought into the loop to establish new “China+1” strategies for supply chains outside China and build momentum towards a new trade-based quadrilateral alliance. [South China Morning Post]

In light of China`s aggressive moves on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, New Delhi is also keen to improve political ties with leaders in the neighborhood and may fast track the proposal, which it would otherwise treat more cautiously due to the signaling effect towards Beijing. Joining the initiative would be in line with both Australia`s and India`s mission to follow-up on their recently launched Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. In June, both countries had agreed to develop new supply chains in key industries, such as rare earths and minerals, while launching the partnership. Shortly thereafter, India made public its intentions to invite the Australian Navy to join the annual instalment of the Malabar exercise (together with the US, Australia, Japan and India form the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “Quad”. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] [AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3] [Business Standard]

During a virtual summit in July, Japanese Prime Minister Abe and his Australian counterpart Morrison addressed the question of how to intensify their countries´ security relationship in face of China´s increasing activities in the Indo-Pacific. [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]

25 August 2020

India-China relations III: Draft agreement with Nepal on Mount Everest measurement raises red flags in Delhi

(lm) In October 2019, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal, both sides agreed inter alia on jointly announcing the re-measured height of the Mount Everest, which was then described as an “eternal symbol of the friendship between Nepal and China”. A draft agreement now revealed that Beijing wants Nepal to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which raises red flags within the Indian government. [AiR No. 42, October/2019, 3] [read the full joint statement here Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People`s Republic of China] [DNA India]

New Delhi, which is already worried about the wider presence of China in Nepal, is now concerned about a clause that calls for Beijing and Kathmandu to jointly collaborate on “surveying, mapping and geo-information management”. While China and India are currently engaged in heightened border tensions in the Himalayas [see above], bilateral ties between New Delhi and Kathmandu have been strained since November last year, over border-related issues. India already perceives Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s government to be more friendly towards Beijing. [The Wire]

Adding to the impression is a report by the Survey Department of Agriculture Ministry of Nepal, which claims that China has been slowly and gradually encroaching on Nepali land at multiple locations spreading over seven bordering districts. [Wion]

25 August 2020

India-China relations II: New Delhi steps up pressure on Beijing, adding extra scrutiny for visas

(lm) India`s concerns about safeguarding its security in the face of its growing confrontation with China have spilled into the academic sphere, as New Delhi is adding extra scrutiny for visas and reviewing Beijing’s links with local universities. [Bloomberg]

To begin with, India`s Ministry of External Affairs has reportedly been instructed by letter in July that visas for Chinese businessmen, academics, industry experts, and advocacy groups will need prior security clearance. Further, activities of India universities with educational partnerships with Chinese institutions are likely to be drastically scaled down, after an initial assessment has revealed that many Indian educational institutions entered into educational partnerships with universities in China without mandatory approval from the federal government. The Indian government initiated a review of 54 cooperation agreements signed between Indian institutions of higher learning and others with links to the official Chinese language training office, known as Hanban. [The Indian Express]

With regard to Chinese influence on academic campuses in particular, concerns are growing that the cultural and linguistic centers called Confucius Institutes may be used as political vehicles for Hanban – which is itself affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education – to spread a more positive view of China abroad. Beijing denies these charges and considers a stigmatization of a language program. [Hindustan Times]

For insights into the Chinese Communist Party’s use of big data collection, smart city and AI technologies as tools to shape global governance which generates positive sentiments to the Party not only within the country, but across the globe, see Samantha Hoffman’s report in [ASPI].

25 August 2020

India-China relations I: New Delhi considers border talks with Beijing “useful”

(lm) While their troops continue to be locked in a simmering stand-off at several points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), India and China have agreed to resolve all outstanding problems in an “expeditious manner” and in accordance with the existing protocols, New Delhi announced on Thursday after the latest meeting of the India-China Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC). [Al Jazeera]

The last meeting between the two countries to discuss disengagement along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh was held last month, but talks to restore peace and smoothen bilateral relations have hit a roadblock since then, as both countries in July deployed additional weapons and troops, seemingly preparing for the long-haul on their disputed Himalayan frontier. [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]

So far, Chinese troops have disengaged and retreated from the Galwan Valley and Hot Springs, but are yet to move out from the Pangong Tso Finger area, where they have been camping for over three months now and have even started reinforcing physical infrastructure and airlifting troops. [Times of India]

Notwithstanding this readout, India sees last week`s meeting as “useful” and is hoping that it will lead to some progress on the ground. A follow-up meeting between Indian and Chinese military commanders is expected to take place this week. [One India]

25 August 2020

Bangladesh-China-India: Dhaka to receive $1billion loan from Beijing for irrigation project on Teesta river

(lm) Talks between Bangladesh and China on a loan deal to implement a proposed irrigation project on the Teesta River have reportedly entered an advanced stage, leaving flat India which had initiated a series of measures to regain long-standing good relations with its eastern neighbor [see e.g. AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]. In July, Bangladesh`s Ministry of Water Resources had disclosed that it was trying to secure a $983.27 million loan from China to implement a “Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project”. Dhaka is reportedly seeking to conclude the loan agreement before year`s end. [NewAge Bangladesh] [The Indian Express]

In September 2016, the Bangladesh Water Development Board entered into a MoU with the Power Construction Corporation of China to carry out a feasibility study to better manage the Teesta for the benefit of northern Bangladesh’s greater Rangpur region. While the region suffers flash floods during the monsoon for lack of necessary protective measures, it battles an annual two-month-long water crisis in winter, as India is holding most of the winter supplies of the river’s water. [The Daily Star 1]

Dhaka has long been pressing New Delhi for signing off a deal on the sharing of Teesta River water. Negotiations were expedited in 2009 and, since 2011, have aimed at ensuring that the river would get the necessary water during the lean season to ensure a minimum level to help the agriculture sector of north Bangladesh. However, as India uses dams upstream to generate electricity and needs water to irrigate farms in West Bengal state, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has so far refused to sign off a respective agreement. [The Hindu]

Earlier this month, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla paid a two-day visit to Dhaka on and discussed a two-year road map for bilateral relations. However, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday that the issues of Teesta river water-sharing had not been raised during Mr. Shringla’s meeting with Bangladesh`s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. [India Today] [The Daily Star 2]

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

25 August 2020

Japan-USA relations: Show of military force against China

(dql) In a clear show of force directed against China, the USA and Japan last week conducted joint large-scale military exercises in the waters and airspace near Japan which involved warships, heavy bombers, advanced fighter jets and an aircraft carrier. The drills were held when at the same time Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono met the Chinese Ambassador to Japan to express Tokyo’s strong concern over China’s military activities around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, claimed also by Beijing which calls them Diaoyu islands, and to demand that China refrain from those military activities.  [Japan Times]

In a related move, US B-1B Lancers and two B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers flew over waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan. [Korea Herald]

For a discussion of Japan’s efforts to deepen its relations with the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing group consisting of the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, see Ankit Panda in [The Diplomat] who point to Japan’s counter-intelligence capabilities and argues that unless Japan can convince these five members “that its accession to the group would not greatly expand the attack surface for adversarial countries seeking to compromise intelligence shared among the group,” Tokyo will only maintain its status as a close Five Eyes partner but not become a formal “sixth eye.”

25 August 2020

China-South Korea relations: Chinese top diplomat meets South Korean top national security advisor

(dql) Last week, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi met South Korea’s Director of the National Security Office Suh Hoon in Busan to discuss trade, denuclearization and the coronavirus response, with both sides confirming “ a very good conversation” as well as a visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to South Korea schedule for “an early date” once the COVID-19 situation is stabilized. [Reuters] [Yonhap]

The meeting comes amid a stalemate in denuclearization talks between the USA and North Korea as well as an impasse in inter-Korean relations. In this situation improving ties with Beijing, which have been rather stuck for the recent years following Seoul’s agreement to the deployment of U.S. missile defense system on South Korean soil in 2017, is one possible for Seoul to make diplomatic and economic gains, Gabriela Bernal argues in [The Diplomat].

25 August 2020

China-Russia relations: Joint military exercises and COVID-19 vaccine trial 

(dql) China and Russia are holding their first joint military exercises since the coronavirus pandemic began, with Chinese troops participating in this year’s International Army Games, an annual tournament organized by the Russian Defense Ministry and called “War Olympics” as it combines traditional military drills with sports-like competitions. The joint drill displays increased joint military trainings between countries over the past decade, amid their growing tensions with the USA. [Nikkei Asian Review]

The exercises are held as at the same time the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific international maritime exercise, the world’s largest ocean exercise, is taking place, with participation of ten countries including – besides the USA – Canada, France, Australia, Japan, Brunei, New Zealand, Republic of the Philippines, Republic of Korea, and Singapore. Former participants China and Russia are not taking part in this year. [USNI News]

Meanwhile, a joint China-Russia COVID-19 vaccine trial is scheduled to have all test persons vaccinated by the end of September, with results will to be released by late autumn. The vaccine, co-developed by Russian and Chinese biopharmaceutical firms, is under the Phase III clinical trials in Russia. [Global Times]

With COVID-19 being a geopolitical object of dispute, the joint vaccine trial is a further demonstration of both countries’ strategic partnership against the West.

25 August 2020

China-Australia relations: Economic tensions rise

(dql) Signaling rising economic tensions between China and Australia, Canberra has blocked a proposed 600 million AUSD takeover of some of the Australia’s biggest milk brands by a Chinese state-owned manufacturing and distribution company of dairy products and ice cream. 

The move comes shortly after Beijing last week launched an anti-dumping investigation into Australian wine exports, making wine the third industry after beef and barley to face trade sanctions. 

The economic tensions come on the top of strained diplomatic between both countries over Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, its criticism of Beijing’s Hong Kong policy and well as its recently intensified efforts to deepen security ties with Japan. [AiR No. 17, April/2020, 4] [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]

In a latest Hong-Kong related development, Australia last week enforced new visa arrangements for holders of Hong Kong passports, paving the way for an easier route to permanent residency for students, temporary graduates, and skilled workers. [Hong Kong Free Press]

For a critic of Australia’s failure to properly weigh increasingly close diplomatic, economic and security relations between China and Russia for the country’s geopolitical strategy. [The Conversation]

For a general critic on American and Western studies and analyses on China and its’ strive for global leadership see Mark Tischler at [The Diplomat] who argues that when analyzing China, too often China’s “never again” mentality – born out of the experience of the ‘century of humiliation” (1839-1949) in which imperial and republican China collapsed in the face of occupation, oppression and exploitation by foreign powers – is ignored as ultimate driving force for China’s domestic as well as foreign policies. 

25 August 2020

China set to establish indigenous tech ecosystem amid concerns over tech decoupling from USA 

(dql) Amid a ongoing discussion about a decoupling between China and the USA in the area of technology in the face of Washington’s attacks on Chinese tech firms including Huawei, Tencent, and Bytedance [AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3] [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2], an index tracking Chinese IT stocks has jumped close to 30% this year as investors are betting on announcements from Chinese local governments and state firms of plans and procurements aimed at fostering indigenous applications to run networks in the state sector and to replace U.S. technologies with a home-grown tech ecosystem. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, TikTok, the video-sharing application owned by China-based ByteDance, which is facing an executive order of President Trump banning its operation in America, has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government. The company argues that the ban violates the company’s right to due process and insisted that it does not engender US national security.  [CNBC]

25 August 2020

Cross-strait relations: Mutual accusations over infiltration and payed critics

(dql) Taiwan last week accused China of “omnipresent infiltration” specifying that since 2018 at least ten government agencies and thousands of email accounts of government officials have been hacked by groups related to the Chinese government to steal important data. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, images of a welcoming ceremony showing China’s Ambassador to Kiribati walking over a row young men laying face-down on the ground has prompted international criticism over alleged Chinese colonialism.  

Beijing rejected this accusation stating the Chinese ambassador was acting on request on the local government and people and “out of respect for Kiribati’s culture and customs,” while accusing Taiwan of paying social media critics to boil up the ceremony to damage China-Kiribati relations. [The Guardian] [Taiwan News

Last year, Kiribati – a country of 115,000 people spread across 32 low-lying atolls and one high island in the South Pacific – severed ties with Taiwan and established formal relations with China. [AiR No. 39, September/2019, 4

25 August 2020

Cross-strait relations: Beijing’s military muscle flexing in the South China Sea

(dql/ef) China is concurrently conducting four military exercises in various coastal regions in this week amid high tensions with the US and Asian countries over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Among them are drills in the Taiwan Strait which – according to statements of the Chinese military – are held in the South China Sea in express response to recent US military activities in the Taiwan Strait and aimed to deter separatist forces in Taiwan and the USA. [Global Times][Radio Free Asia]

The drills are the latest in an almost consecutive series of military activities of the People’s Liberation Army in the South China over the past months accompanied by aggressive rhetoric, further pushing speculations about Beijing preparing for re-unification by force. The speculations have been reinforced by the former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the former acting CIA director under President Obama who argued that China’s invasion of Taiwan could happen as soon as next year and warned that China would be capable of seizing Taiwan in three days and that the USA would be too paralyzed by political turmoil to stop it. [Forbes]

In this light Robert Kagan at [Brookings] assumes that China – seeing that economic and diplomatic pressure have not yielded the goal of re-unification – might opt for a military takeover of Taiwan, and raises the question whether in such a case the USA would respond, adding that “American policies in the two decades before World War II were shaped by what in retrospect looks like a stunning naïveté about other nations’ willingness to resort to force. One wonders if we are any less naive today”. 

The drills come after the de facto U.S. ambassador in Taiwan attended on Sunday for the first time a ceremony commemorating a key military clash between Chinese and Taiwanese forces back in 1958, a highly symbolic move reflecting currently deepening US-Taiwan relations while worsening already frosty US-China/cross-strait relations. [Focus Taiwan]

25 August 2020

China-USA relations: Washington halts extradition treaty with Hong Kong

(dql) Marking another blow to currently high running tensions in Chinese-US relations, the USA last week announced that it has halted its extradition treaty along with two other treaties with Hong Kong to end cooperation in “the surrender of fugitive offenders, the transfer of sentenced persons and reciprocal tax exemptions on income derived from the international operation of ships.” [Independent]

The termination of these treaties is the latest in a string of recent measures taken by the Trump administration to pressure China over its imposition of the national security law for Hong Kong. Earlier measures included the termination of Hong Kong’s preferential trade and diplomatic status with the US as well as the imposition of sanctions against high-ranking Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials on grounds of their involvement in undermining the autonomy of Hong Kong. [AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3] [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]

25 August 2020

Mongolia: China censors and threatens Mongolian language policy critics

(ef) After plans for the elimination of teaching in the Mongolian native languages were leaked, widespread protests in the Southern Mongolian society have ensued. As a consequence, the only social media application in Mongolian-language available in China was shut down by Chinese authorities as it was used to discuss this so-called “bilingual education” policy which entails the elimination of teaching in Mongolian language starting on September 1. Some have suggested that a school strike should be carried out to boycott this new policy. Others have called this policy part of “the trend of Chinese cultural genocide against Southern Mongolians”. [UNPO] [Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center] [Radio Free Asia]

25 August 2020

Is China facing a capital flight of its citizens? 

(dql) Suggesting massive breach of Chinese capital rules, a report of Chainanalysis, a software company providing data analysis and blockchain intelligence, has revealed that Chinese citizens moved more than 50 billion USD of cryptocurrency out of China to other countries over the past 12 months, with parts of the amount believed to constitute capital flight as a response to the worsening of Sino-US trade relations and yuan-fluctuations as well as to the government’s crackdown on channels for offshoring capital through foreign real estate investments and other assets. [CNBC] [Cointelegrapgh]

25 August 2020

China/Hong Kong: Civil service probationers can be dismissed for partaking in illegal demonstrations

(dql) Responding to civil servants having participated in last year’s anti-government demonstrations and gatherings, Hong Kong’s Civil Service Bureau issued new guidelines for the recruitment of civil servants under which – among others – civil servants serving an initial probationary period can be fired if arrested for attending illegal anti-government assemblies, regardless of whether they are subsequently charged.

Commenting on them, Chief Executive Carrie Lam stressed that the guidelines aim at “monitoring and observing not only the performance of the probationers on the job but also their conduct, their other behaviours to make sure that they will be good enough to continue to serve the people of Hong Kong, being an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China.” [Hong Kong Free Press 1] [Hong Kong Government]

In a separate statement, she fiercely rejected warnings from a former Hong Kong Minister that the new national security law for Hong Kong could be abused as a weapon against political dissent arguing that the law does not clearly define which concrete actions constitutes a breach of the new law. Lam, instead, called the new law “righteous legislation” and a “weapon of the rule of law.” [Hong Kong Free Press 2]

25 August 2020

China/Hong Kong: Split among Hong Kong’s pan-democrats over serving or boycotting extended legislative term

(dql) Beijing’s recent decision to extend the current term of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) following the Hong Kong government’s decision to postpone the LegCo election – initially planned for 5 September – for one year, has caused an internal debate within the pan-democratic camp, with a majority of opposition lawmakers expressing their intention to serve the extended term while others from the camp calling for a boycott.  

Amid this debate, two opposition parties holding 12 out of the 22 LegCo seats of the opposition announced that they will rely on the results of a citywide poll which will be conducted prior to the end of the regular term on 30 September to decide to serve or to boycott the term. [Asia Times] [South China Morning Post]

25 August 2020

China: Human rights lawyer’s license revoked

(dql) Chinese authorities have revoked the professional license of a prominent human rights lawyer Xie Yang. He was sentenced three years ago for “inciting subversion against the state” after he had been arrested in 2015 in a security operation called “709” – as the crackdown kicked off July 9 of that year – which targeted over 200 other colleagues.

Xie rose to prominence for defending various political activists, especially members of the New Citizens’ Movement, which advocated for a democratic transition in China for years. [South China Morning Post]

25 August 2020

China: Has Xi Jinping started a new purge to secure a third term as President?

(dql) The Shanghai police bureau director, and concurrently one of city’s vice mayors, has been put under investigation over accusations of “serious violations of discipline and the law”.

The case is the latest in a recent string of investigations and punishments against high-ranking officials – including one of the vice-ministers of the Public Security Ministry and the police chief of Chongqing – and comes amid the implementation of a new “education and rectification” campaign that kicked off last month and aims to get rid of corruption 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. Dozens of officials were investigated or sacked within the first week of the campaign. [Epoch Times] [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]  

Observers interpret the campaign – compared within the party with the Yan’an Rectification Campaign from 1942-1944 under Mao Zedong in which according to scholars more than 10000 had been executed – as the begin of a new purge of President Xi Jinping to stabilize his position for a third term as president in the face of growing criticism of his leadership within the party. [WION] [Foreign Policy] [New York Times] [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]

A case in point, reported by AiR, is the expulsion from the party of Cai Xia, a retired professor of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, the party’s cadre factory, for publicly criticizing the party and the party leadership. [AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]

The Guardian, meanwhile, has published an interview with Cai, taken in June, in which she – referring the 2018 constitutional amendment to abolish the term limits of the presidency – stated that Xi “forced the third plenum of the national congress to swallow it like dog shit. He first completed it and then forced everyone to accept it. […] That shows that the Communist party of China has become a political zombie. The party has no ability to correct errors. So, he singlehandedly killed a party and a country, showing that even when confronted with such a major question of altering the constitution, the party has no power to stop him.” [The Guardian

In a related development, and with explicit reference to Cai’s case, the School has ordered department heads and senior officials to carry out “meticulous work” to keep staff, and especially former staff, toeing the party line, and to ensure “there is absolutely no diversion of opinions that violates the party’s theories and direction, and absolutely no public statements that are different from the decisions of the party leadership.” [Central Party School, in Chinese]

18 August 2020

Philippines-USA relations: Manila undermining Washington tougher stance against China on South China Sea?

(dql) Amid the US determination to go ahead with a hardening stance against China over the South China Sea – reflected in US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration as illegal China’s vast maritime claims on the South China Sea – recent statements of Philippine President Duterte and Philippine Defense Secretary Lorenzana have weakened Washington’s position in its rivalry with Beijing over the disputed region.

While Lorenzana cited a standing order of Duterte, under which the Philippines “should not involve ourselves in naval exercises in the South China Sea except in our national water, the 12-mile distance from our shores,” Duterte on his part declared himself being not in the position to assert the Philippines’ claims as “China has arms, we not.”

Analyst suggest that Duterte is trying to trade Manila’s claims in the South China Sea with the coronavirus vaccine which he hope to receive from Beijing. [Financial Times]

18 August 2020

Cambodia faces new EU tariffs over political repression while inching closer towards China

(jn) On Wednesday, the European Union partially suspended trade privileges it had granted Cambodia under its Everything But Arms scheme (EBA), responding to the Cambodian government’s persistent violations of human rights. As a consequence, Cambodia will lose the duty-free access for about 20% of exports to the bloc, or $1.1 billion of shipment, first and foremost affecting its vital apparel industries.

The decision had already been announced in February following a more than a year-long review by the European Commission (EC) that was triggered by a crackdown against opposition forces. In November 2017, the main opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), was banned for its role in an alleged plot to topple the government, and its leader Kem Sokha was charged with treason. The continuing crackdown and political oppression helped Prime Minister and leader of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) Hun Sen to win the controversial general election of 2018 in a landslide. During the year-long review alone, more than 60 CNRP members were arrested and many more intimidated or forced into exile. Only last month authorities arrested a prominent union leader, Rong Chhun, who had criticized the government for its handling of border disputes with Vietnam. Another opposition leader was taken into custody last week for challenging the government on the same issue.

The EBA establishes a duty-free and quota-free trade regime for all imports from Least Developed Countries except for armaments, provided the beneficiaries comply with international human rights law. Thus, reintroducing tariffs of up to 12% on Cambodian exports will hit the country especially hard considering 25% of its exports (or $6.4 billion in 2018) go to the EU and given the toll the pandemic has already taken on its economy. The move will hit in particular the country’s apparel industry, a $10 billion strong industry employing about 900,000 workers who have already suffered from mass layoffs and factory closures due to the pandemic. 

EU Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan explained that while the EBA was intended to help Cambodia develop an export-oriented industry, the EU was equally committed to the protection of human rights. He also made clear that trade preferences could be reinstated should the government show significant progress on civil and political rights, land disputes and labor rights as well as create the conditions for a credible democratic opposition. According to news sources the EC will continue to monitor the political development in the country and reserves the right to further impose tariffs on other exports.

Until now, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has, however, not shown any interest in complying with the EU’s demands, but seems rather comfortable with relying on Cambodia’s close partner China stepping into the breach. Both countries were supposed to sign a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) on Wednesday – symbolically the same day the new EU trade scheme took effect -, which, however, will primarily boost trade with agricultural goods and not fill the void in the reeling apparel sector. The Cambodian government has not gone into great detail publicly on the alleged benefits of the FTA, but experts estimate that the FTA will add less than 2% of GDP to the economy. What is more, Cambodian imports from China are almost five times worth its exports ($6.1 billion compared $1.3 billion in 2018), while exports to the US and the EU are almost ten times higher. The political symbolism of a closer Cambodian-Chinese relationship celebrated on the same day the EU punished Hun Sen for his repressive rule seems to be more significant than the economic benefits of the FTA. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Radio Free Asia 1] [Radio Free Asia 2] [euronews] [Asia Times]

18 August 2020

India-China tensions rising again

(ls) On Friday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Tibet which borders India. The trip was interpreted as an unusual symbolic gesture toward India. It highlights Tibet’s increased national and international prominence, after several months of border tensions in the Himalayas with a major incident in mid-June when twenty Indian soldiers were killed, while Chinese casualties remained undisclosed. Wang emphasised Tibet’s role in developing economic and trade relations with neighbouring countries as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. [South China Morning Post 1] [Global Times]

China has reinforced its border infrastructure in Tibet which also shares a border with Nepal. Nepal participates in the Belt and Road Initiative under which a number of infrastructure projects have been initiated, including building of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network through Tibet. [Firstpost]

India accepted Tibet as part of China in an agreement in 2003 against the recognition by China of the Himalayan region of Sikkim as Indian territory. In effect, India has supported the “One China” policy while expecting from China to respect a “One India” policy. With rising tensions in the border regions and a mounting Chinese presence it India’s various ‘backyards’, some observers expect that India may reopen this topic again, which, in turn, may also affect China’s stance on India’s authority over Jammu and Kashmir as well as Ladakh. [The Diplomat]

Against the background of the current tensions, it is worth to reflect Tibet’s immense geostrategic importance in Asia. Tibet’s geopolitical capital for China lies not only in its function as a natural barrier fortifying large parts of its frontier and its vast reserves of copper, iron, zinc, and other minerals but also its huge importance as a repository of indispensable freshwater resources that are shared across Asia and supply almost the half of the world’s population.

After all, besides being home to enormous glaciers, the Tibetan plateau, known as Asia’s Water Tower, hosts the world’s greatest river systems – including the Indus, the Mekong, the Yangtze, the Yellow River, the Salween, the Brahmaputra, the Karnali and the Sutlej – which form a lifeline for populous countries such as China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Vietnam but also Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, altogether representing not less than 47 percent of the global population.

However, climate change, deforestation, mining, other industrial activities, and simple human pollution threaten these water reservoirs not to speak about the continuously built dams which all is leading to a quantitative and qualitative decline of freshwater that adds to Tibet’s geopolitical importance – for China and all the other countries depending on Tibet’s waters. 

With its complete upper riparian control over all major rivers flowing out of the Tibetan plateau China can easily manipulate the river flow to the entire downstream periphery, which puts all countries dependent on Tibetan rivers at a strategically disadvantageous position, including especially India. Given that China is among the driest countries globally with more than one-fourth of its lands being desert and water shortages in the Ganges having already affected the lives of millions in Bangladesh prompting thousands to illegally migrate to India the risk of a future water war between China and India looms since long underlining the gravity of cross-border tensions between the Asian giants. [Sramana Mitra] [The Diplomat]

In another step in the ongoing tensions, China extended an anti-dumping tariff on certain optical fibres made in India for five years last week. China’s Ministry of Commerce began to implement anti-dumping measures on imports of single-mode optical fibres from India in August 2014. A few days before the extension, India had imposed provisional anti-dumping duty on imports of black toner originating in or exported from China, Malaysia and Taiwan. In June, New Delhi had issued an anti-dumping duty on certain steel products imported from China, South Korea and Vietnam. [Hindustan Times]

Moreover, India has barred China-flagged and owned vessels from bidding on tenders for chartering tankers to import crude oil into India or export products such as diesel out of the country. However, the move is unlikely to impact trade flows as Chinese vessels are mostly used in India for the transport of liquefied petroleum gas. [South China Morning Post 2]

18 August 2020

Taiwan: Prevention of settling of Chinese spies

(ef) Upon increasing numbers of Hong Kong residents settling in Taiwan amid an increasingly tense relationship with China, Taiwan announced that it will practice stricter scrutiny of mainland Chinese citizens who are residents of Hong Kong and seek to settle in Taiwan following the imposition of the security law. The move aims at preventing infiltration and espionage and targets those Hong Kong and Macau residents who are originally from mainland China or are current or former party, government, or military officials who will be subject to a cross-department vetting procedure. The move comes just over a month after Taiwan opened an office for Hong Kong residents who attempt to move to Taiwan. China stated that Taiwan was trying to stir up enmity towards China. [Reuters]

18 August 2020

China-Japan relations: Diplomatic tensions over disputed islands in East China Sea

(dql) Sino-Japanese tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea are flaring up. This Tuesday, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono met the Chinese Ambassador to Japan to express Tokyo’s strong concern over China’s military activities around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, claimed also by Beijing which calls them Diaoyu islands, and to demand that China refrain from those military activities. [Nippon]

For a discussion of the question of whether it is thinkable that Japan would refrain from responding military to a takeover of the disputed islands and cede them to China see Grant Newsham at [Asia Times] who argues that it is.

18 August 2020

China-Russia relations:  De-dollarization and veto against US bid for extension of UN Iran arms embargo 

(dql) Signaling Sino-Russian efforts to decrease their dependence on the dollar, in the first quarter of 2020, trade between Russia and China conducted in US dollar settlement was below 50% for the first time on record while their respective national currencies accounted for more than 20%, also a new high. Trade in Euro made up an all-time high of 30%. 

As recently as 2015, dollar settlements accounted for approximately 90% which fell to 51% by 2019 following the US-China trade war and due to concerted push by both Moscow and Beijing for de-dollarization. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In another sign of Chinese-Russian opposition against the USA, Beijing and Moscow both vetoed Washington’s bid in the UN Security Council to extend a U.N. arms embargo on Iran last week, while  eleven members (Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Indonesia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Tunisia, Viet Nam) abstained and only the Dominican Republic sided with the USA. [VoA]

18 August 2020

China set to enact laws to counter massive food waste

(dql) China is set step up measures to reduce food waste, with the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, announcing that it will formulate regulations on grain production, purchase, storage, transport, processing and consumption in order prevent food waste. 

Studies have revealed that in 2015 consumers in four large Chinese cities accounted for 17 to 18 million tons of wasted food, equaling the annual consumption of 30 to 50 million people. [South China Morning Post]

18 August 2020

China: Central Party School professor punished for criticizing party

(dql) A retired professor at the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party – the party’s cadre factory – was expelled from the party, with her retirement benefits rescinded, for criticizing the party, calling it a “political zombie” and accusing “a central leader” of turning “90 million Party members into slaves, tools to be used for his personal advantage.” [South China Morning Post] [China Digital Times]

Her case is the second of two recent cases in which critics who are firmly part of the regime have been punished for attacking the party and party leadership, indicating possible widespread criticism of President Xi Jinping’s rule within in the party. [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]

18 August 2020

China/Hong Kong: Interview with government critic removed from broadcaster website

(dql) Public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) removed from its website a podcast with wanted and exiled pro-democracy activists Nathan Law on the postponement of the Legislative Council election. 

In a related movement, the city government announced the appointment of former lawmaker and current member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Beijing’s top advisory body, as new chief of RTHK’s advisory body. 

These moves, along with the raid of Apple Daily last week, reinforce concerns over press freedom and the media landscape in Hong Kong under the security law. [Hong Kong Free Press] [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]

18 August 2020

China/Hong Kong: Prominent protest supporters released on bail

(dql) Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of regime-critical newspaper Apple Daily, and Agnes Chow, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, were released on bail after having been arrested last week under the new security legislation over charges of secession and colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security. Both criticized the action taken against them with Chow calling her arrest “political prosecution” while Lai condemned the accusations against him of promoting Hong Kong independence as “conspiracy of the CCP to clamp down” on him. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Bloomberg] [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]

18 August 2020

China: Beijing extends term of current LegCo

(dql) Following the contentious postponement of the Legislative Council (LegCo) election – initially planned for 5 September – to September 2021 by the Hong Kong government [AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1], the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, last week decided to extend the current term of Hong Kong’s legislature by a year to fill the legislative ‘vacuum’ between the end of the current term on 30 September and the next term.

In response to the decision, pro-democracy legislators reiterated their rejection of the delay of the election, a move they believe was made to deprive them of a chance to win an unprecedented majority in the election. They further criticized the city government for calling on Beijing to decide on the term of the current legislature and further undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and constitutional system. [Bloomberg] [Aljazeera]

The decision is the second case in a short time which sees Beijing deciding on Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs following the imposition of the National Security Law for Hong Kong in late June. [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5]

11 August 2020

Asian countries protesting, cooperating over Chinese posture in South China Sea

(ls) Vietnam is going to purchase six patrol boats from Japan to boost its Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement capabilities. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed a $345 million loan agreement with the Vietnamese government at the end of July. It is the first deal of this kind between the two countries as Japan had previously only sold fishing vessels to Vietnam.

The deal comes at a time when Vietnam has been at odds with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea. In a corresponding statement, JICA said the project would contribute to “the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific”, a term that has initially been coined by the United States. The development demonstrates Vietnam’s increasing alignment with the United States and its ally Japan in defense of its interests against China. [Japan Times]

JICA has already signed similar agreements for the construction of patrol ships and boats with the Philippine Coast Guard under the joint Japanese-Philippine Maritime Safety Capability Improvement Project (MSCIP) program. [Naval News]

Meanwhile, the Philippine navy chief has called for a diplomatic protest against the presence of two Chinese research ships in a disputed area surrounding the Reed Bank. The Reed Bank is an energy-rich area of the South China Sea that the Philippines claims within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This claim was essentially confirmed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016. China, however, does not recognize the ruling. [South China Morning Post]

In a related development, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said after a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that matters relating to the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully based on universally recognized principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on The Law of The Sea (UNCLOS). However, he also emphasized that Malaysia should not be caught up in the geopolitics of superpowers, emphasizing the need to maintain good relations with all sides. [Malay Mail] [Benar News]

Malaysia submitted a note verbale to the United Nations on 29 July, rejecting 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 ‘ninedash line’”. [United Nations]

11 August 2020

Pakistan: Increasingly isolated on the Kashmir issue, Islamabad strengthens ties with China

(lm) When Pakistan last week observed the first anniversary of the revocation of Kashmir`s semi-autonomy by India [see above], it also unveiled its new policy to deal with the historic dispute. Importantly, with newly published map being an example in case, Islamabad might increasingly rely on the strategic China-Pakistan nexus to keep the issue alive – both domestically, and internationally. [The Wire]

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi expressed frustration over the response of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and Saudi Arabia, insisting that the OIC was not doing enough to pressure India on the Kashmir issue. Calling again on Riyadh to convene a special meeting of its Council of Foreign Ministers – a request that was initially turned down by Saud Arabia in February – Mr. Qureshi said that Islamabad was willing to proceed “with or without” support from Riyadh. [Times of India]

The announcement coincided with Saudi Arabia ending a loan and oil supply to Pakistan, forcing Islamabad to repay a $1 billion Saudi loan. The original loan was part of a $6.2 billion package announced by Saudi Arabia in November 2018, when Islamabad was struggling with rapidly expanding trade deficit and declining foreign reserves. The package included $3 billion in cash assistance and a $3.2 billion worth of annual oil and gas supply on deferred payments. According to the Pakistani Ministry of Finance and the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Pakistan has taken the loan of $1 billion from China to pay back the Saudi Arabia loan. [Middle East Monitor] [Nikkei Asian Review] [Daily Times]

The same day, Pakistan`s Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved a $ 6.8 billion upgrade of railway infrastructure in Kashmir. The costliest project to date as part of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, the Mainline-1 (ML-1) project involves upgrading and track-doubling railway lines in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor. About 90 percent of the cost will be provided by Chinese banks in the form of long-term loans on conditions yet to be negotiated between the Beijing and Islamabad. [South China Morning Post] [International Railway Journal]

Ties between Beijing and New Delhi have been strained since early May, with Indian and Chinese troops being locked in a simmering stand-off at several points along their Line of Actual Control (LoC). Talks to restore peace and smoothen bilateral relations have hit a roadblock, as both countries in July deployed additional weapons and troops, seemingly preparing for the long-haul on their disputed Himalayan frontier [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4].

It was against this backdrop that China on August 5 tried to bring back the Kashmir issue to international attention again. After Beijing supported Pakistan’s bid for a “closed consultation”, the UN Security Council was briefed behind closed doors on the situation in Kashmir. “China is seriously concerned about the current situation in Kashmir and the relevant military actions. We oppose unilateral actions that will complicate the situation,” China’s mission to the United Nations in New York said in a statement. [Reuters]

11 August 2020

China-Tajikistan relations: Beijing to grasp Pamir region?

(dql) A recent article, published in the state-controlled Chinese media and demanding Tajikistan’s Pamir mountain range – a  part of the Western Himalaya bordering in the country’s East to China – to be ceded to China has prompted concerns in Tajikistan (but also in Russia which views Tajikistan as its geopolitical backyard) over China’s interests and territorial aspirations in this region.

In 2010 China and Tajikistan signed an agreement on a new border that required Dusbande to hand over to Beijing more than 1.100 square kilometers of territory in the Pamir region, equaling more than 5% of the claimed territory. Since then, Beijing has constantly deepened its foothold in the country, by obtaining significant shares of the small mountainous country’s raw materials sector in return for security assistance provided to Dusbande. This year, Beijing established an airport close the border to Tajikistan, announcing further airports to follow in this region. China, furthermore, helped build military infrastructure and a training base for Tajikistani soldiers in the Pamir territories. [EurAsian Times] [The Jamestown Foundation: China Brief]

11 August 2020

China-Mongolia relations: Ulaanbaatar reassures Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang are Chinese domestic affairs

(dql) At the Fifth China-Mongolia Strategic Dialogue Between Foreign Ministries held last week, both sides agreed to deepen cooperation in a number of areas including political and diplomatic affairs, economy and trade as well as cultural and people-to-people exchange. The Mongolian Deputy Foreign Minister reassured that “Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xizang [sic] affairs are purely China’s internal affairs.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

11 August 2020

China-Japan relations: Tokyo ready to respond to Beijing’s possible fishing boat intrusion 

(dql) Sino-Japanese tensions are flaring up after Japan warned its military to be prepared for Chinese intrusions of its territorial waters around the disputed islands – Senkaku islands in Japanese, Diaoyu islands in Chinese – in the East China Sea. The warning comes in response to reports of Beijing announcing that its ban on Chinese fishing boats operating in the disputed waters will expire this Sunday. The announcement was reinforced by Beijing stressing that Japan has no right to demand the fishing boats stop their activities alluding to its own claims of sovereignty over these waters and islands. [Newsweek] [South China Morning Post]

In a show of force, Chinese coastguard vessels have been constantly entering the disputed waters over the past one and half year. Until July, Chinese government ships were present in the area for a record of 111 consecutive days before leaving. [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]

For insights into Japan’s legal and administrative efforts to strengthen protection of its territorial integrity against “China’s gray zone tactics” in the East China Sea in historical perspective, see James Kraska at [The Diplomat].

11 August 2020

China-USA relations: Defense Ministers agree to keep communication channels open

(dql) Amid high running tensions between China and the USA, Chinese Foreign Minister Wei Fenghe and his US counterpart Mark Esper held a phone talk last week. While the talk did not narrow down any differences as both Ministers reiterated their respective country’s criticisms and demands related to – among others – Covid-19 transparency, the South China Sea and  Hong Kong, both sides also agreed on “maintaining open channels of communication and developing the systems necessary for crisis communications and risk reduction.” [US Dept. of Defense] [Xinhua]

11 August 2020

China-USA relations: Washington imposes sanctions against top Chinese officials over Hong Kong

(dql) Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the city’s incumbent and former police chiefs are among 11 Chinese high officials targeted by sanctions imposed last week by the USA as part of its hardening stance against China over Hong Kong. Washington cites their role in curtailing freedoms in the former British colony as reason for the sanctions which cover freezing their assets on US soil and prohibiting Americans for doing business with them. [Reuters]

China was quick to retaliate with similar sanctions against 11 American nationals including Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Pat Toomey – all of them vocal sponsors and supporters of US anti-China legislation and sanctions – as well as Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth. [Bloomberg]

In another press freedom-related development, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong has warned that foreign journalists are becoming targets in the escalating Sino-US tensions citing foreign journalists in Hong Kong facing unusually lengthy visa issuance delays. [Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong]

The warning comes amid a diplomatic spat between Beijing and Washington over Chinese journalists and media outlets operating in the USA and vice versa. In February, the US government declared that five mainland Chinese media outlets were agencies controlled by Beijing, in response to which Beijing expelled three reporters from The Wall Street Journal after the newspaper ran an opinion piece titled “China is the real sick man of Asia”. In March the US State Department restricted the number of Chinese employees of the five outlets permitted in the US to 100, from 160. Weeks later Beijing retaliated with revoking press credentials for American journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4] [AiR No. 12, March/2020, 4]

11 August 2020

China-USA relations: Trump threats to ban WeChat in the US 

(dql) Last week, US President Trump signed an executive order barring people and companies in the U.S. from engaging in “any transaction” with WeChat, the most popular social-network app in China, from 20 September on, unless Tencent, WeChat’s owner, will sell the app by mid-September. Trump cited concerns for US national security for the move, accusing WeChat of gathering “vast swathes” of user data, threatening US citizens’ personal and proprietary information. In earlier move, Trump issued a similar order with regards to TikTok, a popular Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by a Beijing-based Internet technology company. [BBC] [AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1]

While the order’s impact on Tencent’s business will be insignificant, it is the latest in a string of recent measures in Washington’s aggressive campaign against Chinese technology firms.

Trump’s ‘TikTok’ and ‘WeChat’ orders were echoed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he revealed that Washington is expanding its efforts to achieve a “clean network” in which the US government will seek to remove Chinese companies from app stores, apps, cloud services, mobile carrier networks and undersea internet cables. [CNN]

11 August 2020

China: Investment for transport infrastructure of technology hub approved

(dql) China is set to invest nearly 67.9 billion USD for a major transport and connectivity infrastructure project in the Greater Bay Area, building 775 km (480 miles) of intercity railway and five transport hubs to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in the province of Guangdong. The project aims to create an integrated mega economic and technology hub which is capable to compete with San Francisco’s Silicon Valley.

11 August 2020

China/Hong Kong: High profile arrests under new national security law

(dql) Prominent pro-democracy activists have been arrested over charges of inciting secession and collusion with foreign forces, a latest sign of the Hong Kong government’s determination to robustly enforce the new national security law for the city imposed by Beijing at the end of June. 

Among the ten arrested are business tycoon Jimmy Lai, owner of the regime-critical newspaper Apple Daily and a vocal supporter of anti-government protests, and Agnes Chow, a leading figure in the new generation of protesters and former founder of the pro-democracy party Demosisto which disbanded in the face of the new security law. Apple Daily office was raided by the police shortly Lai was arrested.

The arrests have further raised concerns about a possible crackdown on freedom of press and political dissent in the former British colony under the new legislation. [Washington Post] [Hong Kong Free Press]

In a related move signaling Beijing’s tightened grip on Hong Kong, it has demanded that the Hong Kong government widen the scope of the city’s laws pertaining the offence of disrespecting the Chinese flag. Beijing, too, is set to reform the respective laws in China. Under the new law, displaying the national flag upside down and other ways of diminishing its dignity would be banned. Members of the public would have to salute to the flag while being prohibited from discarding the flags casually after attending public events. [South China Morning Post]

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:


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]


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


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]