Asia in Review Archive 2021 (January- June)

China (People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

12 January 2021

China: Rights lawyers’ suspended, revoked

(dql) A Chinese lawyer has been suspended for a year after posting videos on social media which allegedly showed police torturing witnesses and a defendant, he was representing, to extract confessions. [Yahoo News]

Meanwhile, Chinese judicial authorities have announced to revoke licenses of two lawyers, both having represented two of the 12 Hong Kong fugitives who had been intercepted by the Chinese coast guard while trying to flee to Taiwan in summer last year. Ten of them were sentenced to between seven months and three years in prison for illegal border crossing, while the two youngest were returned to Hong Kong for trial on charges related to anti-government protests last year.

The two lawyers, who are known for their outspoken critic of the Chinese legal process, are accused of “publishing inappropriate speech online,” and “severely damaging the image of the industry,” as well as “causing negative impacts on society.” [Daily Mail]

12 January 2021

China: High-profile corruption cases

(dql) High-profile corruption trials that concluded with a life imprisonment verdict and a capital punishment sentence have again drawn attention to President Xi Jinping’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign which has so far snared over 1.3 million officials from powerful “tigers” to low-ranking “flies” since its launch in 2012. [AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]

Hu Huaibang, the former chairman of the China Development Bank (CDB), was sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of accepting bribes of more than 13.2 million USD between 2009 and 2019 for helping others obtain bank credits, operate their businesses, and secure promotions. [Reuters]

Former chairman of China Huarong Asset Management, one of China’s four largest state-owned bad-debt management companies, Lai Xiaomin was handed a death sentence for bribery totaling 277 million USD over ten years leading up to 2018, the highest amount in more than seven decades since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. [CNN]

 

12 January 2021

China: Plans for establishing Chinese socialist rule of law under the leadership of the party unveiled 

(dql) The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has released plans for an overhaul of China’s legal system in the next five years to build “a system of distinctively Chinese socialist rule of law” by 2035 under which “the people’s right to equal participation and development will be fully guaranteed, and the modernization of the nation’s governance system and capabilities will be largely achieved.” 

Reform measures, identified in the blueprint, include the comprehensive implementation of the constitution and the introduction of a complete system of laws which comes along with an efficient system for law enforcement, a rigorous legal supervision system, a strong system of legal guarantee, and a sound system of intra-Party regulations.

The plans also stress the “centralized and unified” leadership of the party as “most fundamental guarantee” for the development of the socialist rule of law. [Sohu, in Chinese]

President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, in a speech at a top-level party meeting – attended by all members of the party’s highest decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, as well as by Vice-President Wang Qishan, known as Xi’s right-hand man – called for confidence, conviction and discipline in the CCP at a critical juncture of history as “the world is currently undergoing a major transformation not seen in the past hundred years.” While Xi expressed his conviction that “time and momentum,” was on China’s side and that the opportunities outweigh the challenges for China, he cautioned that the “entire party must continue to be modest and prudent, struggle hard, mobilize all mobilizable positive factors, unite all strength, handle its matters with full energy, and work with perseverance on carrying out our set objective” of realizing the modernization of socialism with Chinese characteristics. [Xinhua, in Chinese] [South China Morning Post]

12 January 2021

China: Revised rule books for party members and United Front to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party

(dql) The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) last week released amendments to its regulations on the rights of party members to include new guidelines pertaining to the internal complaint mechanism. Among   others, the new rules will not treat work-related mistakes of cadres as discipline violations and give cadres the right to propose the removal of their leaders in case of proven incompetence. Furthermore, party members – while entitled to report misconduct by other members, including superiors – are not allowed to disseminate such information at will and are not allowed to do so on the internet.

The revision also changes the wording of a clause in article 16 which reads: “A member of the party must not publicly express opinions inconsistent with decisions of the central leadership.” A similar clause in article 12 of the previous 2004 version of the regulations banned the open expression of opinions that are the “contrary” the leadership’s decisions. Insofar, the change from ‘opposite’ to ‘inconsistent’ reflects a more far-reaching curbing of public comments on decisions of the party’s leadership. [Xinhua, in Chinese] [News.12371, in Chinese] [South China Morning Post]

The new regulations come half a year ahead of the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, which under President Xi Jinping’s “systematic approach to strengthening and reinforcing the organisational resilience of the CCP at all levels” in pursuit of a “Party-dominated modernity” for China has become a “fundamentally different organisation … than it was before, both in terms of the role it plays in society, and the political and ideological expectations that come with membership,” Jude Blanchette argues in [East Asia Forum].

Meanwhile, the CCP has also published a revised set of regulations on the work of the United Front Work Department which call for increased efforts to win “the love for the motherland, the Communist Party and socialism with Chinese characteristics,” among overseas Chinese and to contain at the same time “Taiwan-independence forces” among them. The regulations were approved by the party’s Politburo earlier in November last year. [Yahoo News]

12 January 2021

China: Over 50 arrests in largest crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy politicians and advocates since national security legislation

(dql) On Wednesday last week, more than 50 people were arrested in citywide police operation in Hong Kong, involving more than 1.000 officers raiding nearly 80 places at dawn. The arrested include pro-democracy politicians and campaigners accused of “subverting state power” under the Hong Kong national security law. Almost all of them were released on bail a day later. [The Guardian] [Deutsche Welle]

The accusation refers to informal primaries organized in July last year by opposition parties to identify which of their candidates had the best chances in the Legislative Council (LegCo) election – then slated for September – and at which candidates announced to boycott government proposals and increase pressure for democratic reforms in case the opposition would win the majority in the election.  More than 600.000 people voted in the primaries, giving the opposition a huge legitimacy boost and increased the opposition’s expectations to win for the first time the majority in the LegCo. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam had warned at that time that the primaries could amount to subversion if the candidates intended to obstruct government policies through their election. 

The election was later postponed, with officials citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the delay, while opposition politicians called the election postponement a political maneuver of the government to steal their possible election victory. [BBC] [AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2] [AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1]

Observers view the arrests as the latest sign of Beijing’s determination to rein in political opposition and to openly exert a heavier hand in the former British colony. In earlier moves, high-profile democracy activists and advocates were arrested, including Jimmy Lai, media tycoon and founder of the regime-critical tabloid Apple Daily, and Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, leading figures of the now disbanded political party Demosisto. While the former is standing trial for breaching the national security law, the latter two have already been sentenced to jail for organizing an unlawful anti-government rally in 2019. [AP] [Washington Post] [New York Times] [AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2

In a related development, the Hong Kong police has reportedly invoked the national security law to block access to the website HKChronicles which publishes material primarily pertaining to the anti-government protests in 2019. [Reuters]

12 January 2021

Thailand, China to notify of river flow hold back

(nd) The Mekong River Commission (MRC) and Thailand reported that China notified its downstream neighbors about its holding back of the Mekong River flow at a hydropower dam on the waterway’s upper reaches for 20 days. The water restriction started on December 31 and the newly introduced US-backed monitoring system already asserted that China had failed to notify downstream countries. The cited reason for the holding back was “maintenance of transmission lines” in its electricity grid, with the flow being gradually restored by January 25. Last October, China agreed to share such water data with the MRC. [Bangkok Post]

12 January 2021

Myanmar, China to meet this month

(nd) As first high-level official visit after the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) landslide victory in the election in November, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Myanmar this month. It is expected that Wang’s visit will speed up the construction of projects delayed by the pandemic under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

Issues could arise due to the lack of participation of residents and ethnic states and little information shared, which could lead to protests against these projects upon the beginning of construction. The development of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in western Rakhine State, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone in Shan and Kachin states, and the New Yangon City project in Myanmar’s commercial capital were named as pillars of the CMEC by Chinese president Xi Jinping. None of the CMEC projects has reached the implementation stage yet.

While Myanmar’s earlier role vis-à-vis China was rather passive, officials in Naypyitaw now argue that Myanmar should be more pragmatic in dealing with China, urging the country to developing projects itself and communicate with the public and then negotiate with China. Both countries’ relationship iscomplex with China being the largest neighbor and trade partner, who will gain economic control over Myanmar’s through the development projects – a criticism that follows all projects of the BRI globally, including the potential for debt trap diplomacy, implications for national sovereignty, environmental issues and security risks. [Irrawaddy]

12 January 2021

Indonesia: Bakamla armed against rising tensions in the South China Sea

(nd) Last month, the civilian maritime force, Bakamla, in the northern Natuna Island armed its vessels with machine guns due to recurringly intruding vessels from China and Vietnam. While Indonesia does not consider itself as a claimant sate in the South China Sea, China’s historic fishing right claims overlap with Indonesia’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The move is delicate due to its possible effect on bilateral relations. China is Indonesia’s largest trade partner, with a trade volume of US$79.4 billion in 2019. With the efforts to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, Indonesia is dependent on vaccination, with 1.2 million doses of Sinovac having arrived in early December.

Bakamla was authorized last summer to procure weapons, and ships were fitted with remote-controlled Stabilised Naval Gun Systems in December. This was also in response to an increase in calls from parliament and the public, in an effort to curb anti-China groups. Analyst therefore did not interpret the latest move as a toughening of Indonesia’s position but rather an effort to prevent an escalation. The same logic applies to Vietnamese fishing boats, due to an unresolved overlap of the respective EEZ claims. While an increase in arms might serve as a deterrence, the numbers of ships are still outweighed by those of the Chinese coastguard, which is why Bakamla still relies on larger ships of the Indonesian Navy.

Experts expect Chinese naval actions to be more focused on the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam this year, while it usually carefully balanced its moves to not be putting pressure on all claimant countries at the same time, possibly to avoid a multilateral reaction. [South China Morning Post]

12 January 2021

Indonesia: Underwater vehicle Chinese-made

(nd) The autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that was found off South Sulawesi last month, which sparked concerns of a security breach or espionage attempt, was made in China. The location is strategic due to its sea lanes used for trade, and the resource-rich waters are rich fishing grounds and energy reserves alike. Due to the rising tensions in the South China Sea, security officials have voiced suspicion about Chinese maritime activities. Still, the location of origin is unclear and no country had claimed the vehicle.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), marine scientific research in a country’s exclusive economic zone should only be conducted with the consent of the respective state. [South China Morning Post] [See also AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]

12 January 2021

India must do more to become China alternative for manufacturers, says outgoing US ambassador

While delivering a farewell address on the US-India partnership, Washington’s outgoing ambassador to India criticized Prime Minister Modi’s trade policies, saying New Delhi will need to take more policy action if it wants to become a new destination for manufacturing investments in the Indo-Pacific region in the post-pandemic era. [South China Morning Post]

As China is currently facing an unprecedented global backlash destabilizing its reign as the world’s factory of choice, the Modi administration has sensed an opportunity and has prioritized efforts to attract supply chains, both at central and state government level. However, attempts to attract US companies looking at setting up manufacturing facilities out of China have so far yielded little success mainly because of differences on market access. Last year, India announced its withdrawal from a crucial multilateral trade agreement with fifteen other Asia-Pacific economies, collectively known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), despite seven years of negotiations [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Observers say decisions like these make it difficult for Indian exporters to benefit from tariff-free access to destination markets or offer reciprocity to its trading partners.

During the event, the outgoing ambassador also commented on the possibility of sanctions hanging over New Delhi’s ongoing deals with Moscow for military hardware, including the S-400 surface-to-air missile system [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. While he assured that sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) were not were never designed to harm “friends and allies” of Washington, he also cautioned that New Delhi might soon have to choose between “trade-offs”, namely inter-operability and diversification of sources of procurement. [Hindustan Times]

Meanwhile, a United States delegation led by the Consul General Hyderabad met on January 5 with the chief minister of India’s southwestern state of Andhra Pradesh. During the meeting, the delegation expressed Washington’s interest in setting up an American Hub in the state’s executive capital, Visakhapatnam – the second one in the country after Ahmedabad. [The New Indian Express]

12 January 2021

China pulls 10,000 troops from Line of Actual Control to rear positions

(lm) Showing goodwill in de-escalating the border tension, China has reportedly withdrawn 10,000 troops from its disputed border with India over the course of the past two weeks, with Beijing acknowledging that extreme weather conditions make it impossible for both sides to fight. Still, the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) frontline deployments remain unchanged, according to Indian sources. [South China Morning Post 1] [Hindustan Times]

Earlier, the Indian army on January 11 returned a Chinese soldier it had taken into custody earlier last week for transgressing into the Indian side in an area south of Pangong Tso lake. This was the second detention on the high-altitude border: Last October, the Indian Army returned another Chinese soldier it had apprehended after he ‘strayed’ across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into Indian-controlled Ladakh’s Demchok area [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. [Deutsche Welle] [South China Morning Post 2]

Although Chinese troops have pulled back from some training areas on the adjacent Tibetan plateau, the Chinese military, for one thing, has established a fully-fledged strategic observation post near the crucial trijunction border area between India, China, and Bhutan. The bone of contention in the 2017 Doklam standoff, the plateau is of strategic importance to New Delhi, because it overlooks the Siliguri corridor, a narrow stretch of land also known as the ‘Chicken’s Neck’ that connects India’s north-east with the mainland [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]. [South China Morning Post 3]

For another thing, an unspecified number of Indian soldiers belonging to the Rashtriya Rifles, a counter-insurgency force of the Indian Army, has been shifted to the LAC. The soldiers had hitherto been deployed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to fight the popular armed insurgency. Moreover, India’s Army Chief General Naravane said on January 12 he expected another round of talks soon, although several rounds of talks have so far made little headway in deflating tensions over the disputed border. [The Straits Times] [Anadolu Agency]

 

12 January 2021

China-Africa relations: Chinese Foreign Minister visits five African countries

(dql) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Africa good-will tour last week, took him to five countries, including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and Seychelles. 

In Abuja, Wang vowed that China will continue to support infrastructure building in Nigeria, to encourage more investment by Chinese businesses, as well as to carry out cooperation in free trade parks, aimed at advancing Nigeria’s industrialization process. [Xinhua]

Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, meanwhile, revealed that his country is in talks with China to procure China-made coronavirus vaccines. His revelation came amid concerns that African countries could be pushed to the back of the waiting list for Covid-19 vaccinations. [South China Morning Post 1]

During his second stop in Kinshasa, Wang and his Congolese counterpart Marie Tumba Nzeza signed an Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the frame of the Belt and Road initiative, making Congo the 45thAfrican country to join China’s infrastructure development project. At the same meeting, Wang also announced that China will waive Congolese debts worth estimated 28 million USD and provide further financial assistance of 17 million USD. [China.Org] [South China Morning Post 2]

Following Congo, Botswana also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China for cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), after talks between Wang Yi and his Botswana counterpart Lemogang Kwape in Gaborone in which both sides agreed to reinforce bilateral and diplomatic relations. [Africa News]

Meanwhile, in his talks with Tanzanian Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi, Wang reassured that China “is ready to strengthen the exchange of governance experience with Tanzania, advance and discuss practical cooperation in railways, infrastructure and agriculture in line with Tanzania’s national development needs and encourage Chinese companies to import more Tanzanian products.” In a related development, Tanzanian President John Magufuli requested China to cancel some of his country’s debts amounting to more than 167 million USD, while the Tanzanian government signed with two Chinese construction companies a 1.3 billion USD contract to build a railway line in Tanzania to connect its main port to neighboring countries. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China] [Caixin] [Africa Logistics]

During Wang’s final leg of his Africa tour in the Seychelles, the Chinese Foreign Minister reaffirmed that the Belt and Road initiative remains open to the Seychelles to join, adding that Beijing seeks to intensify efforts to boost cooperation with Seychelles in the three areas of green environmental protection, blue ocean and tourism. Wang’s visit also saw the signing of an agreement part of which is a Chinese grant of 11 million USD, including 4.6 million USD to assist the Indian ocean island nation with a project that will help the country generate more renewable energy. [Xinhua] [Seychelles News Agency]

12 January 2021

China-UK relations: London set to outlaw Chinese imports with links to human rights abuse in Xinjiang

(dql) Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is believed to unveil this week plans to ban imports of goods suspected of using forced labor in Xinjiang. The ban target’s especially Xinjiang’s cotton industry, but the plans are expected to also include tougher laws on exporting goods or technology that could be used for repressive policies. 

The anticipated move will further worsen already strained Sino-British relations over London’s criticism of the crackdown on democracy protesters in Hong Kong and on the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. [Aljazeera]

12 January 2021

China-Australia relations: Canberra blocks Chinese takeover of building contractor

(dql) In a latest sign of frosty relations between China and Australia, Canberra rejected a 300 million USD takeover bid of state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation for Australian-based company Probuild, a major building contractor. The Australian government cited security concerns for its decision, including worries that China could access sensitive information about national infrastructure built by Probuild, for example Victoria’s police headquarters’ design and vaccine laboratories. [Daily Mail]

 

12 January 2021

Cross-strait relations: China displays weapons targeting Taiwan

(dql) Images of the year-opening training session of an artillery brigade of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) revealed a new variant of the powerful the PCL-191 long-range multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), capable of hitting strategic targets with precision fire anywhere on the Taiwan’s west coast. 

It was the first public display of the updated weapon, viewed by experts as one of the world’s most powerful of its kind, since its appearance at China’s National Day parade in 2019. [South China Morning Post]

In a related development, the PLA Rocket Force showcased ten types of active short and intermediate-range missiles targeting “Taiwan independence-leaning forces”, in a documentary of state broadcaster China Central Television released on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the founding organization. [ABS-CBN]

Formerly the Second Artillery Corps, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) is the strategic and tactical missile forces of China. Established in 2016, the PLARF controls the country’s arsenal of land-based ballistic missiles – both nuclear and conventional.

12 January 2021

Chinese state media fire stitches over Capitol occupation

(dql) Chinese state media were quick to pour vials of wrath on the US over the occupation of the Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump. 

Besides contrasting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statements on the occupation of Hong Kong’s parliament on the one hand and the storm on the Capitol on the other (“We stand with the People in Hong Kong” vs “Lawlessness and Rioting is always unacceptable”), Global Times cited Chinese netizens’ commenting on the mob with words like “karma,” “retribution” and “deserving”.  A target was also House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who last year described an image of the occupation of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council with the words “a beautiful sight to behold.” A tweet, cited by Global Times, ask her whether she “will say the same about the recent developments in Capitol Hill.” [Global Times] [EurAsian Times] [Hong Kong Free Press]

12 January 2021

China-US relations: Trump bans Chinese software apps

(dql) Citing the protection of national security, US President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order to ban eight Chinese software applications, including popular online payments providers Ant Group’s Alipay, QQ Wallet and WeChat Pay.

The order will take effect in 45 days and is the latest in a string of bans ordered by Trump against Chinese companies, including China’s largest ones: Huawei, chipmaker SMIC and drone manufacturer DJI Technology along with other firms considered by the US government to have links to the Chinese military. [BBC]

China’s Ministry of Commerce, meanwhile, issued a new bylaw according will make third-party, non-American entities in China punishable in case they comply with Washington’s punitive measures and inflict losses to their Chinese customers and partners. [Asia Times]

12 January 2021

China-US tensions over Taiwan: Beijing warns of US UN ambassador’s and Pompeo’s planned visits to Taipei

(dql/nm) Taiwan’s government and the US mission to the UN announced, that US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft will visit Taiwan from January 13-15 to meet with senior Taiwanese leaders. The visit is of highly symbolic nature as Taiwan is not member of the UN. Craft is set to give a statement on Taiwan’s contributions to the global community, along with a call for the expansion of Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.

Following Undersecretary of State Keith Krach in September and Health and Human Rights Secretary Alex Azar in August last year, Craft will be third senior US official to visit Taiwan within half a year, reflecting US heightened efforts to support Taipei amid high running tensions between Washington and Beijing. In response, China’s UN mission warned that “whoever plays with fire will burn himself. The United States will pay a heavy price for its wrong action,” and called on Washington “to stop its crazy provocation.” [Reuters] [MENA FN]

The announcement of Craft’s Taiwan visit was followed by a statement of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo past weekend in which he revealed that the State Department would move to ease restrictions on contacts and interactions between US and Taiwan officials which had been put in place after the adoption of the “One China policy” in 1979. A planned visit of Pompeo to Taiwan – which would have been his final overseas trip as state secretary – however, was cancelled after China threatened to send warplanes over Taiwan in case of the visit. [Department of State, USA] [The Guardian] [Taiwan News]

12 January 2021

China: Advancing military aircraft

(dql) China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force has offered insights into a new twin-seat variation of China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet and a J-20 version equipped with an indigenously made engine in official videos recently released shortly ahead of the 10th anniversary of the maiden flight of the aircraft.

Chinese experts claim that the additional seat of the J-20 could allow for more complicated tasks such as electronic warfare, command of wingman drones or tactical bombing, while the domestic engine  proves that China no longer relies on Russian engines for the J-20.  [Global Times]

 

12 January 2021

China: Space station on the way

(dql) China is set to launch three major missions in the next few months to begin the construction phase of the country’s space station project. 

The first of 11 planned missions to construct a three-module Chinese space station, the three launches mark the beginning of the end phase of a project which had been approved in 1992 to develop human spaceflight capabilities and establish a long-term crewed presence in low Earth orbit. [Space News]

 

5 January 2021

Cross-strait relations: Taipei and Beijing issue convictions against Taiwanese nationals 

(nm) Last week, a Taiwanese businessman was found guilty of working with Chinese intelligence in contravention of the National Security Act and handed a three-month jail sentence or payment of a fine by the Taipei District Court. The man had been charged in August for attempting to “develop an organization” for the official use of a foreign government. The case is still open for appeal. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Taipei Times 1]

Meanwhile, 29 Taiwanese nationals were sentenced to four-and-a-half years to 14 years in prison by a Beijing court for telecoms fraud committed in Spain in 2016. The defendants were allegedly members of a fraud ring that operated from Spain but defrauded 14 Chinese nationals residing in China and Hong Kong by pretending to be Chinese law enforcement officials and swindling money. [Focus Taiwan 2] [Taipei Times 2]

5 January 2021

Chinese delegation downplays visit to Nepal

(lm) The Chinese delegation dispatched in the wake of the dissolution of Nepal’s lower house of parliament [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5] wrapped up its four-day visit on December 30, after meetings with Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leaders, including Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, and his two intraparty rivals, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal.

While members of the delegation claimed their visit was focused on strengthening ties between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and political parties in Nepal, observers say the group explored several options to retain the dominance of the communist parties in Nepal’s politics, including forging an alternative alliance led by the NCP for the upcoming general elections: The first was to convince Prime Minister Oli to reverse his decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call for early election [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4] in exchange for being allowed to lead the caretaker government. But the prime minister refused the proposal, saying there was no guarantee that the rivaling faction would not try to topple his government. Dahal and Nepal, in turn, also refused to give any commitments, demanding that the prime minister should reverse the order to dissolve parliament first. [Hindustan Times]

Moreover, the Chinese delegation also explored the possibility of mobilizing an alternative government led by the NCP – but minus Prime Minister Oli – in case the dissolution is reversed by the Supreme Court (SC) [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. To this end, the group held meetings with leaders from Nepal’s two major opposition parties, Nepali Congress (NC) and Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP-N), testing the water for cross-party support of a Dahal-led NCP. The team also reached out to the next generation of NCP leaders from both camps to get them to nudge their seniors to keep the party united. [The Himalayan Times

5 January 2021

China, Russia to vote against resolution against Myanmar 

(nd) A draft resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar was adopted 130-9 by the UN General Assembly, with Russia, China, Belarus, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Myanmar themselves voting against it, and 26 countries, including India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Singapore abstaining from voting.

India said they engaged with Myanmar at every level, Japan commented they were also communicating with Myanmar directly, while China said they were trying to negotiate with Myanmar and Bangladesh. [New Age World]

 

5 January 2021

Sri Lanka signs currency swap agreements with China and India

(lm) To boost its foreign currency reserves and maintain short-term foreign exchange liquidity, Sri Lanka is seeking currency swap facilities with the respective central banks of China and India combined worth $2.5 billion. The negotiations come at a time when Colombo is gearing up to repay a daunting $4.5 billion of its outstanding foreign loans this year. The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that is, desperately needs cash to service its multibillion-dollar international debts and to run a current account deficit estimated at $1.1 billion annually. [South Asia Monitor]

Colombo’s financial vulnerability is providing a fresh opportunity for both Beijing and New Delhi to deepen their influence in the island nation as they engage in a growing contest to gain the upper hand in the strategic Indian Ocean. China, which styles itself as an all-weather friend to Sri Lanka, already provided $500 million ‘urgent financial assistance’ last year, to help cope with the economic knock-on effects of the pandemic [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. India, in turn, provided a $400m currency swap facility last year through the Reserve Bank of India, its central bank, helping to boost the island’s reserves [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4].

5 January 2021

Pakistan, China agree on need to deepen cooperation

(lm) During a telephone conversation between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, both sides on December 31 agreed to deepen their cooperation and work together for peace and stability in the region. The same day, representatives of both countries signed a loan agreement worth $100 million for the rehabilitation of the National Highway N-5 Project, an 1819-km road artery linking the port of Karachi to Peshawar and the Afghan border. [Dawn] [The Nation]

To maintain the momentum of high-level exchange, Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to visit Islamabad early this year. However, it now appears that the trip may not happen in the coming months as Qureshi has been invited to visit Beijing, instead.

China, meanwhile, has dismissed reports that it sought additional guarantees from Pakistan before sanctioning a $6 billion loan for the construction of a railway line project [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. Beijing also rejected claims that it was moving away from its initial commitments to Islamabad under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, after Pakistani media had reported that concerns over Pakistan’s ability to pay back loans had emerged in recent negotiations. [WION] [The Hindu]

5 January 2021

Talks with China yet to make progress to end border stand-off, says India

(lm) While more than 100,000 soldiers of both armies remain deployed in harsh winter conditions, talks between India and China have yet to make headway to end the months-long border stand-off, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said on December 30. Notwithstanding periodic hopes for a resolution [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3], a breakthrough has hitherto eluded several rounds of diplomatic and military talks. Yet, both sides are still exchanging messages over the border situation and another round of military talks was in the offing, according to Singh. [The Straits Times]

Recognizing that Beijing has an immense military advantage, observers suggest that India is stalling for time, privily accepting that a diplomatic solution is unlikely. While New Delhi’s heavy military deployment can neither punish Chinese incursions nor force Beijing to relinquish control of its newly acquired territorial gain, it may be able to contain losses and prevent any further Chinese encroachment into Indian territory, at least temporarily. With both armies locked into the prospect of a long watch in the high mountains [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1], the Indian Army’s performance and its sustenance through this winter may be the critical factor for New Delhi’s plans to deal with the Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh. [Foreign Policy]

5 January 2021

Cross-strait relations: Tsai Ing-wen reiterates conditions for meaningful dialogue with China

(nm) In her New Year’s speech on past Friday, President Tsai Ing-wen reassured China of Taiwan’s readiness for having “meaningful” cross-strait talks, but also reiterated her demand that such talks will be held among “equals” and based on “principles of reciprocity and dignity.” 

China’s Foreign Minister, however, harshly rejected Tsai’s remarks, accusing the Taiwanese government of engaging in “cheap talk,” and Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of continuing “to provoke by seeking independence, confronting the mainland at every turn, deliberately creating confrontation across the Taiwan Strait.” [Reuters 1] [Aljazeera]

Tsai’s remarks come amid an exchange between officials from both the People’s Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan), that depicts their divergent views on Taiwan’ status as a country and the prospect of cross-strait relations. On Thursday last week, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) rejected a statement from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) that 2021 would see further efforts to bring about the “unification of the motherland.” The MAC emphasized Taiwan’s status as a sovereign country that has never been part of the People’s Republic of China and that it will never accept any unilateral legislation by Beijing that tries to destroy its sovereignty. It also pointed at the crucial role played by Taiwanese investors in China’s rise as “the world’s factory” and its high-tech sector. The TAO, in contrast, referred to an increase in bilateral trade and identified the refusal of Taiwan’s government to accept that it is part of China as the root cause of present tensions. [Taiwan News] [Reuters 2]

Meanwhile, according to a year-end report released by the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), a Taiwanese government-funded think tank, Beijing’s policy toward Taiwan is unlikely to change in 2021, citing the deterioration of US-China relations, warming US-Taiwan ties, and the cessation of cross-strait talks due to political differences, including on the “1992 consensus,” and adding that 2020 saw most intrusions of the People’s Liberation Army into Taiwan’s ADIZ (91 days) since the “Taiwan Strait missile crisis” in 1996. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Focus Taiwan 2]

5 January 2021

China-Mauritius relations: Free trade agreement enters into force

(dql) Signed in October 2019, the China-Mauritius free-trade agreement (FTA) took effect last Friday, opening up a market of 1.4 billion Chinese consumers to the island nation in the Indian Ocean and making within seven years 96% of over 8.500 products Mauritius sells to China duty-free.

The FTA is Beijing’s first ever FTA with an African country. Its importance for China lies less in economic terms, but rather in symbolic and strategic terms as it cements China’s footprint in Africa and influence in the Indian Ocean. [South China Morning Post] [TRT]

The launch of the FTA coincided with the first day of trading within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a 3.4 trillion USD economic bloc encompassing 1.3 billion consumers. The framework agreement for the AfCFTA has been signed by every African nation except Eritrea, and ratified by 34 of them. China in November last year vowed to support the development of the AfCFTA by providing financial aid and capacity-building training. [The Voice] [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]

 

5 January 2021

China-Australia relations: Competing for influence in Pacific islands

(dql) In an attempt to counter increasing Chinese influence in the Pacific Ocean, Australia is moving to boost ties with small island nations off its eastern coastline. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has pledged to supply its neighbors with Covid-19 vaccines in 2021 as part of a 500 million AUSD package aimed at achieving “full immunization coverage” in the region. [Bloomberg]

The promise comes on the heels of negotiations with Fiji, which were commenced in November and are believed to pave the way to allow military deployments and exercises in each other’s jurisdiction. [Defense Connect]

For insights into China’s growing footprint and aid activities in the South Pacific since 2006, see  Jonathan Pryke in [Lowy Institute] who argues that while pandemic has provided China an opportunity to deepen its influence in the Pacific, the price for its “aspiring influence in the Pacific” might be “too high for the country to bear,” given “[g]reater resolve from the West, greater awareness within the Pacific, and growing financial demands at home and abroad.”

5 January 2021

China warns UK against sending its largest warship to the South China Sea 

(dql) China has warned the United Kingdom and other Western powers not to send warships to the South China Sea, adding that it would take “necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty”. The warning is a response to the Royal Navy’s announcement that its Carrier Strike Group, centered on Britain’s largest ever warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, had achieved initial operating capability, ready to deploy.

Over the past years, UK defense officials have been stating that the carrier’s first deployment would include Asia and the Pacific on a route from Britain that would likely take it through the South China Sea. [CNN] [International Business Times]

5 January 2021

China-EU relations: Bilateral investment deal concluded

(dql) China and the European Union last week announced that they concluded talks on the long delayed Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) which allows the world’s second- and third-largest economies to deepen their ties. 

The investment deal, negotiations on which begun already in 2014, is believed to boost European businesses seeking to enter the Chinese market, as it will “significantly improve the level playing field for EU investors by laying down clear obligations on Chinese state-owned enterprises, prohibiting forced technology transfers and other distortive practices, and enhancing transparency of subsidies,” ensuring European companies “certainty and predictability for their operations,” according to the European Council.  [CNBC] [Nikkei Asian Review]

For China, the deal signals that it is maintaining the momentum of shaping the global economy, outmaneuvering the US again after having done so by the recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, another major free trade agreement of which the US is not a member. In a related statement, President-elect Joe Biden conceded that there is “an enormous vacuum” in American leadership, adding: “We’re going to have to regain the trust and confidence of a world that has begun to find ways to work around us or without us.” [New York Times]

For a further discussion on the China’s strategic yield of the deal, see Theresa Fallon in [The Diplomat] who argues that in addition to preserving and encouraging EU investment in China and gaining legitimacy in the eyes of domestic and international public opinion, “[t]he main deliverable from Beijing’s point of view was to drive a wedge in transatlantic relations, and Brussels appears to have complied.” See a similar assessment in [VoA], where Jacob F. Kirkegaard confirms that “[g]eopolitically, the CAI will signal that the EU does not see itself as ‘wholly in the U.S. camp’ in the U.S.-China rivalry, but will rather pursue a ‘middle of the road/playing both horses’ strategy between them,” making the deal “undoubtedly a major political coup for China, as the EU is a major player in all multilateral economic organizations and it will now likely be more difficult for the Biden administration to utilize such organizations — say WTO, UNCTAD, etc. — to try to confront Chinese economic policies.”

5 January 2021

US accuses China of paying Afghan non-state actors to shoot US soldiers

(dql) The Trump administration has disclosed thus far uncorroborated intelligence according to which China has offered money to Afghan non-state actors for attacks on US soldiers. 

China’s Foreign Ministry rejected these claims calling them “fake new aimed to smear China,” adding that Chinas does not get involved in the internal conflicts in Afghanistan, while reassuring Beijing’s support for the US-initiated peace and reconciliation process, which seeks an end to two decades of war in the South Asian nation. [Axios] [VoA]

5 January 2021

China-US military relations: US destroyers transit Taiwan Strait

(dql) In a rare move, two Japan-based US Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS John S. McCain and USS Curtis Wilbur, last week conducted a Taiwan Strait transit, the 13th mission through the sensitive strait in 2020 but the first time in the year that the US had sent double destroyers there. [USNI News] [South China Morning Post]

5 January 2021

China-US relations: Diplomatic tensions flare up over 20 years in jail sentence for Uighur medical doctor 

(dql) Already high running diplomatic tensions between China and the US flared up over the case of Uighur Muslim medical doctor Gulshan Abbas whose US-based family members revealed last week that Abbas was sentenced to 20 years in prison in China, claiming their human rights activism in the United States as ground for the conviction.

US Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor, Robert Destro, demanded Abbas’ immediate release, describing the doctor’s “forcible disappearance, detainment and harsh sentencing by the CCP,” as testimony of the suffering of a family which spoke out against a government “that has no respect for human rights.” China’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, defended the sentencing, citing crimes of membership in a terrorist organization, support for terrorist activities, and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social order.” It called on US politicians to stop “fabricating lies to smear China, and stop using the Xinjiang issue to interfere in China’s domestic affairs.” [Reuters] [Hong Kong Free Press]

5 January 2021

Singapore: Former Chinese spy arrested

(nd) Singaporean spy Dickson Yeo, jailed in the US for spying for China earlier last year, has upon his arrival in Singapore been arrested to be questioned on whether “he had engaged in activities prejudicial to Singapore’s security.”

From 2015 to 2019, Yeo used his US-based political consultancy as a front for Chinese intelligence services, according to court documents. To do so, Yeo hired US military and government insiders with high security clearances to write reports for the consultancy, which he then provided to China. According to the court documents, he was aware that those were affiliated with Chinese intelligence. The former PhD student at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) was recruited by Chinese intelligence during his time at the university. [South China Morning Post]

5 January 2021

Nepal: 5000 residents protest China-sponsored industrial park project

(lm) More than 5,000 residents protested on December 29 against the construction of a China-sponsored industrial park, demanding adequate compensation for the acquired land and transparency regarding the Chinese investment project located in Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s home constituency. Built under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BIR), the project will be fully funded by China and handed over to Nepal after 40 years. [The Himalayan Times] [Khabarhub]

5 January 2021

China: High-ranking official put under investigation over corruption suspicion

(dql) Hu Wenming, the former head of China’s aircraft carrier program, has been expelled from the Chinese Communist Party and is being now investigated by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection on suspicion of abusing his powers and taking bribes.

Hu is among the latest high-profile targets in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, which since its launch in 2012 has snared over 1.3 million officials from powerful “tigers” to low-ranking “flies”.

Hu joined China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) as party chief and general manager in 2010, overseeing the development of the Liaoning aircraft carrier, a refitted Soviet warship, and the Shandong, China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier. CISC was responsible for the research, design, production, testing and support missions for naval weaponry and equipment including aircraft carriers, conventional and nuclear-powered submarines, surface vessels and underwater weapons. [South China Morning Post]

For insights into endemic corruption within China’s military shipbuilders, see [The Diplomat].

5 January 2021

China: New defense law boosts Central Military Commission’s role

(dql) Approved at a session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, in December, China’s revised National Defense Law entered into force on January 1.

The revisions aim to strengthen “war preparedness and combat capabilities” of the People’s Liberation Army to ensure that they are “ready to fight at any time”. To this end, the amendments, among others, expand the power of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission (CMC) – headed by President Xi Jinping – to mobilize military and civilian resources in defense of national interests, both at home and abroad. They also hand decision-making power to the CMC, weakening the role of the State Council, China’s cabinet, in formulating military policy. 

A further notable change in the new law is the introduction of the vague terms of “disruption” and protection of “development interests”, added as grounds for the mobilization and deployment of troops and reserve forces. 

According to observers, the new legislation reflects the party’s and Xi Jinping’s confidence in the legitimacy of their absolute leadership over the country’s military. [South China Morning Post] [ANI] [EurAsian Times]

5 January 2021

China: Historic anti-ivory smuggling court decision

(dql) In China’s largest ivory smuggling case, a Chinese court handed down lengthy prison sentences against a group of 17 people, ranging from two to 15 years and including life imprisonments against two of them. The court found the group guilty of smuggling a large number of pieces of ivory worth over 150 million USD from Nigeria and other countries between July 2013 and August 2018. 

China has long been one of the world’s largest markets for ivory. In an effort to combat illegal ivory trafficking, the Chinese government at the end of 2017 banned commercial ivory trade in the country. [Sixth Tone]