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But not to China, in a sign that the cruise industry is probably more on the ball than the average China watcher
Reportedly a a new Royal Caribbean cruise ship, hopefully of fanciful PR origin: found on Twitter.
The picture above has haunted me for days, leading to the thought that perhaps I could somehow weave it into some commentary on a recent report by the The Financial Times on how cruise ships are skirting China due to Covid controls.
The connection is tenuous at best, but for what it’s worth:
While cruise bookings around the world are rising to pre-pandemic levels, analysts and industry insiders said a recovery for the sector in China and Asia could only begin after 2024, given that cruise lines typically plan operations a year or more ahead.
Carnival’s Costa Cruises, which used to have a strong Asia presence with a quarter of its fleet stationed in the region, has suspended sailings owing to uncertainties over a tourism rebound. Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises no longer deploy ships in the region, while Genting Hong Kong, which used to operate Dream Cruises, went bankrupt this year.
Royal Caribbean is basing only one of its cruises, the 2,137-cabin Spectrum of the Seas, in Singapore as its home port, as its former port Hong Kong only removed cruise restrictions in October.
Which brings us back to China’s zero Covid policy – a subject I’m so fed up with I’ve been inclined to quit Substack and this newsletter altogether recently.
But, anyway, given we’ve come this far, what is happening with China’s Covid policy?
Opinion writer Shuli Ren over at Bloomberg is of the opinion – “Is the Great China Covid Reopening a Myth or a Must?” – that, while what China does next is the “trillion dollar question,” basically “reopening is no longer a policy choice, but a must.”
The latest omicron wave has placed more than half of China’s economy in high- or mid-risk areas, which in turn result in restricted personal freedoms and business activities. In terms of economic impact, it is even worse than the harsh two-month Shanghai lockdown earlier in the year.
The Wall Street Journal essentially agrees it’s a “must,” and thinks that China is probably going to ease up on the controls but “cautiously” and without a timeline (hedging their bets):
Chinese officials have grown concerned about the costs of their zero-tolerance approach to smothering Covid-19 outbreaks, which has resulted in lockdowns of cities and whole provinces, crushing business activity and confining hundreds of millions of people at home for weeks and sometimes months on end. But they are weighing those against the potential costs of reopening for public health and support for the Communist Party.
Meanwhile, The Economist sensibly notes that as bad as we hear it is, China has more than 100 cities with more than 1 million people, and most of those are not under lockdown at the same time (good news).
An Economist reporter even went to one such not-locked-down city – Jingdezhen (population 1.7 million) in Jiangxi Province, historically famed for its porcelain – and discovered:
Once a visitor is inside the city, the pandemic feels far away. Jaw agape, your columnist joined hundreds of maskless locals thronging People’s Square on a weekend evening as they danced in formation, watched over scooter-riding children or twirled a dragon-headed streamer: scenes of freedom unimaginable elsewhere in China.
The problem is that numbers are mounting in China, driven by the BA.5.2 strain, according to the South China Morning Post, which adds that districts in Guangzhou such as Haizhu and Liwan (which has a population of some 1.3 million – get that: a district with a population of 1 million+), while Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang are also getting hit hard.
Bloomberg today reports – “China’s Lockdowns Fail to Contain Covid as People’s Anger Grows” – that the dire situation is general China-wide.
Xinjiang reported the fourth-highest number of new cases nationally for Monday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, despite some cities in the region in China’s northwest locked down for 90 days. Inner Mongolia, which was sealed off in early October, saw cases jump to almost 1,800 from 1,033 a day earlier, while Henan province’s infections more than doubled in a day to 747.
Which brings us full circle back to those cruises.
As delightful as the one pictured at the head of this think piece looks: you will not be taking a cruise to China. In fact, you won’t be going to China at all any time soon.
Whether – and we simply don’t know what the upper echelons of the party are thinking and anyone who says they do is indulging in fancy – China is going to ease out of its stringent zero Covid policies they’re unlikely to do so just as the virus looks set to triumph.
That would be giving up and the Chinese government does not want to give the impression it’s doing that, not without months of warm-up propaganda.
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Extraditions to China barred by EU
The European Court of Human Rights has issued a decision that effectively bars states under its jurisdiction from extraditing anyone to China, according to the China Collection and media sources.
The decision was issued in the case Liu v. Poland, and it’s a big deal.
Liu is a Taiwanese man who was wanted by China on charges that he was the ringleader of a vast international telecoms fraud syndicate. He was arrested in Poland in August 2017 pursuant to a Red Notice issued in December 2016. He did not claim to be a victim of political persecution, and Polish courts found that there was a high probability that he was guilty of the offenses charged. They therefore approved the prosecutor’s application for authorization to extradite.
The ECHR held that Liu could not be extradited. The standard it applied was ‘whether the person concerned, if extradited, would face a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention [Against Torture]’ (para. 66). It then reviewed various reports about torture in China, both from the UN and from various NGOs such as Amnesty International.
It was a unanimous ruling and it applies to 46 states. It also applies to anyone in Europe, regardless of nationality, which means China cannot nab its own citizens, Hong Kong passport holders or Taiwanese.
Expect China to be extremely annoyed – recall all those recent reports on Chinese police stations scattered around Europe and elsewhere – because it has been tracking down its nationals (and other nationals, such as Taiwanese) wanted for economic and political crimes.
Germany and China – the story continues
Mixed signals on China continue to emanate from Berlin, with the Financial Times reporting that German was looking to tighten up non-European investments into critical industries and a chip-factory deal with China was looking to be scuppered.
The German government is expected to formally bar the sale of Dortmund-based Elmos’s semiconductor plant to China-owned Silex Microsystems following a cabinet meeting on Wednesday [today].
The blocking of the sale comes just days after Olaf Scholz made his first visit as chancellor to Beijing and highlights increasing concerns over the security of western semiconductor technology and supply chains.
Adam Tooze in his recommended Substack, Chartbook, notes:
It is true that since the 1990s Germany’s position has been unusual in that its sophisticated industrial manufacturing base was complementary to China’s economic development. Germany, though it suffered a “China shock” through cheap imports, also gained an offsetting boost through the success of its exports to China. As a result, Germany is the rare Western economy that since 2009 has run a trade surplus with China.
As Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, notes in Foreign Policy, “Germany is not dependent on China. It is rather a select group of German multinationals that push this narrative.”
This is no doubt why Chancellor Olaf Scholz took a full retinue of German business champions to Beijing with the message that it’s business as usual, even if German popular sentiment is against it.
Some worry that Scholz’s corporate approach to dealing with China will disincentivize others in the EU ranks to push back against wide-ranging ethnic human rights violations in China and the latter’s increasingly likely invasion of Taiwan.
But there is still hope that a pragmatic Germany with less to lose than others in the EU can stand up and be counted – with enough internal and external pressure.
Xi warns Russia against nuclear option
‘Don’t do it,’ Xi says to Putin. Image: Burnt Pineapple Productions; WikiCommons.
It’s possibly theater aimed at presenting China in a less aggressive light; then again, Xi Jinping may genuinely have qualms about the Ukraine conflict turning into an outright nuclear blitz.
The international community, said Xi [Jinping], should ‘jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons,’ according to a statement carried by Xinhua, China’s state news agency. The world should also ‘advocate that nuclear weapons cannot be used, a nuclear war cannot be waged, in order to prevent a nuclear crisis’ in Europe or Asia, Xi added.
It would be naive to assume this is China turning against comrade-in-arms Russia.
Xi didn’t call on Vladimir Putin to call the Ukraine offensive off; rather he called on Europe to engage in negotiations and it’s difficult to see where they would even start given Putin’s pledged determination to make Ukraine one with Russia.
The Greater Sinosphere
Be gutsy, visit Taiwan
Some unusual opinion at the Sydney Morning Herald – generally an advocate of not ruffling China’s feathers – which suggests that Australian parliamentarians should join the gathering tide of international politicians queuing up to visit Taiwan.
In the past two weeks alone, lawmakers from Germany, Indonesia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and the European Union have visited Taiwan in public shows of solidarity.
By contrast, it’s now been more than five years since a publicised visit from an Australian parliamentary delegation. However, like their counterparts in other democracies, Australian MPs have compelling reasons to make the trip to Taipei.
For heaven’s sake, the US House speaker was there not that long ago – in a move China briefly made look like WWIII – and this week the UK trade minister is there, leading to more whining from the world’s second largest economy.
Anyway, on visiting Taiwan …
And not just for the dumplings, the noodle soups, boba tea and highly eccentric pizzas – no, Australian politicians (in bipartisan missions) should be visiting Taipei to show China “that fellow democracies won’t leave Taipei to face the belligerence of the Chinese Communist Party alone.”
In an “all resistance (to China) is futile” Australia – Oh, and aren’t those Taiwanese capitalists appalling! – perhaps the region’s complexities are starting to assert themselves in even the “liberal” pro-China-engagement press down under.
One hopes so.
Not in our backyard
Japan and the UK are preparing to sign a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA), following a similar deal Japan signed with Australia in January as Tokyo and its allies and partners “prepare for the possibility of a war with China over Taiwan,” reports the Financial Times.
Christopher Johnstone, a former Pentagon official, said the RAA would be an “important step” and highlight Japan’s efforts to diversify security ties with US allies and partners. But he said the practical impact would be small since Japan has less military interaction with the UK than with Australia.
Japan is also in the preliminary stages of considering a similar pact with the Philippines, which Johnstone said would be much more significant.
At present these are small steps for Japan, but they signal a massive shift in position for a country that renounced war with a pacifist constitution post-WWII.
But, as Hal Brands puts it in Bloomberg Opinion:
The threat of Chinese aggression is producing a quiet revolution in Japanese statecraft — and pushing the nation to get ready for a fight.
For the US, China is a dangerous but distant challenge. For Japan, China is the existential danger next door.
The FT adds:
Over the past two years, the US and Japan have stepped up efforts to prepare for a possible conflict with China over Taiwan, including holding serious war games and more regular joint military exercises.
Japan is also in advanced talks with the US to acquire Tomahawk cruise missiles which would allow it to strike targets in eastern China, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
First Taiwanese casualty in defense of Ukraine
Photo: Via Twitter.
A Taiwanese member of the International Legion of Ukraine's territorial defense forces, was reportedly killed in action last week, Taiwan’s first combatant to die in the country’s war with Russia, reports Focus Taiwan.
Taiwanese media reported that 25-year-old Tseng Sheng-kuang (Zēng Shèngguāng,曾聖光) was a professional soldier in Taiwan’s army and a member of Taiwan’s Indigenous Amis people from the island’s east coast.
Indigenous Taiwanese account for almost 8% of Taiwan professional soldiers and 60% of its special forces, as was the case during the Japanese colonial period.
Indigenous Taiwanese are likely to suffer the most from any military conflict involving Taiwan.
Huang Li-chen, Tseng's wife, told CNA that her husband's comrade told her that Tseng had died due to loss of blood on the battlefield in the contested Luhansk region.
Tseng was widely hailed as a Taiwanese hero on social media, despite mainstream media efforts to discredit him by publicizing details of civil court cases against him for about US$30,000 in debt.
These were amplified by newspapers and TV stations such as the China Times and TVBS, which have consistently tried to raise doubts in Taiwan about the justifications for and ability of the Ukrainans to resist Russia.
For some in Taiwan, Ukraine is an object lesson in what Taiwan should not do and also in what Taiwan’s fate will be if China invades.
According to this line of thinking, Tseng sacrificed his life in vain. But pictures of Tseng in Ukraine, including those from claiming to be from a Japanese volunteer who knew him, have convinced most Taiwanese that he was a hero.
Ukrainian Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Oleksandr Merezhko spoke out with similar sentiments.
“He did everything he could to save us, to support us, to defend us. He was one of our defenders, one of our guardian angels,” he said, describing Tseng as “a Taiwanese brother who had shed his blood on Ukrainian soil.”
There are said to be 10 Taiwanese volunteers fighting in Ukraine.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
UK trade minister in Taiwan
Official portrait of Greg Hands, UK trade minister. Photo: Chris McAndrew; WikiCommons.
UK Trade Minister Greg Hands arrived in Taiwan on Monday for a two-day trip with the aim of “future proofing” Britain’s economy as a hedge against an ascendent China and to co-host (with President Tsai Ing-wen) the 25th annual UK-Taiwan trade talks, reports The Guardian.
China reacted as it usually does, lecturing the Brits on not encouraging “separatists” and sending 46 warplanes and four navy vessels toward Taiwan, the most since September 1, according to Bloomberg.
The in-person trip to Taipei, aimed at boosting economic ties between the countries, comes as the UK takes an increasingly protectionist approach to Chinese investment. Prime Minister Sunak has described China as the “biggest long-term threat to Britain,” and during his summer leadership race against Liz Truss said China is “attempting to bully their neighbors, including Taiwan.”
Chris Taylor in Bangkok
Uyghurs in limbo
Bitter Winter reports on Uyghurs in Thailand being held in grim conditions and repatriated to China and never being heard from again.
Following a recent exposé in the Bangkok Post concerning the plight of Uyghur refugees held captive in Thai detention centers, Lord David Alton, a UK peer who has visited such a detention facility in Thailand, speaking to Bitter Winter, has denounced the “heartbreaking” incarceration, where inmates are “caged like animals.” He has appealed to the British government to expedite their transfer to Britain, and to the UNHCR to examine their cases as a matter of urgency.
This is a “story” that has been quietly bubbling on the back-burner since 2014 when a large group of Uyghurs arrived in Thailand after a “torturous overland route through inner China, Laos, and Cambodia.”
Initially, 173 were freed and sent on to Turkey in late June 2015, but a further 109 were repatriated to China, where the Global Times showed footage of “the hooded men being manhandled down an airplane staircase”
None has been heard from since. From the original total, 59 have been living in an uncertain limbo for the last eight years and their fate is no closer to a denouement.
The other 59 Uyghurs, some women and children, have been moved from pillar to post over the years. Despite eight Thai human rights organizations pushing for a solution, it seems they are pawns in a diplomatic quagmire between China and the United States; Beijing currently seeming to have the upper hand.
200 detained in Lhasa
Worshippers outside the Jokhang in the heart of old Lhasa. Photo: kantsmith; PixaBay.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports that some 200 people have been arrested in Lhasa after anti-Covid-lockdown protests two weeks ago.
Initial reports that leaked out of Tibet suggested that protests in Lhasa on 26 October were mainly by Han Chinese who wanted to return to the lowlands during the lockdowns.
But RFA now claims that Tibetans participated, calling it Lhasa’s largest protest since the 2008 uprising that was crushed by Chinese security forces.
‘Though many of these detainees are of Chinese origin, there are also a number of Tibetans coming from other parts of Tibet and from Chengdu,’ one RFA source said, referring to the capital city of western China’s Sichuan province.
They are currently being held inside buildings owned by development companies inside the Tibet Autonomous Region,’ or TAR, the source added.
China and Taiwan unite over panda tumor
A giant panda in Taipei Zoo, but no guarantees it’s the one with a brain tumor. Photo: Patche99z; WikiCommons.
No, it’s not a turnaround in China-Taiwan relations, but experts from China hurried to Taipei zoo last week to assist Taiwanese vets with Tuan Tuan, a panda with a suspected malignant brain tumor, reports the Associated Press.
In fact, Tuan Tuan must be the first thing the two countries have cooperated on since they agreed on the Three Links – 三通, sān tōng, for postal, transportation and trade connections – in 1979.
Two experts arrived whenTuan Tuan appeared to take “a turn for the worse.”
Following: some classic wire agency boilerplate:
The giant panda and his mate, Yuan Yuan, were gifted to the zoo in 2008 during a time of warming relations between China and Taiwan, which split amid civil war in 1949.
Ties have deteriorated since then, with Beijing cutting off contacts in 2016 following the election of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen, who was re-elected in 2020. Polls routinely show Taiwanese rejecting China's demand for political unification between the sides, favoring instead the status quo of de-facto independence.
We wish Tuan Tuan – who is under observation rather than under the knife for the moment – the best and hope that this is just the first of many fruitful cooperative endeavors between increasingly autocratic China and its feisty democratic neighbor across the Taiwan Strait.
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