In Europe, the tide turns
Dependence on a belligerent, anti-Western, ideologically driven China seems less and less like a good idea
Art: © Wirestock | Dreamstime.com.
Al Jazeera and other media outlets report that the EU Parliament is turning on China.
European Parliament members have overwhelmingly backed a resolution that condemns China’s military aggression against Taiwan and said that Beijing’s “provocative actions” must have consequences on relations with the European Union.
Stating that the European Union and Taiwan are ‘like-minded partners’ that adhere to the values of “freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law”, the resolution was adopted on Thursday by 424 members of the parliament with 14 against and 46 abstentions.
Some might argue that this is a minor shift in policy, but the EU has long seen the US as the diplomatic wildcard in China relations. The latest moves are bringing Europe into closer alignment with the US, flouting a long-held policy of “strategic autonomy.”
The result is close to a wholesale sea change with respect to China.
The EU, for example, has proposed banning products made with forced labor (a reference to the plight of Uyghurs in far western Xinjiang Province), increasing scrutiny of “foreign funding” of European academic institutions and debating – and that includes the ever China-trade friendly Germans – what to do about incursions in the Indo-Pacific.
China’s stated support for Russia and by implication the latter’s invasion of Ukraine has also given the EU massive pause for thought.
Meanwhile, Taiwan has been petitioning the EU to put in place disincentives that might make China reconsider its refusal to take the threat of invasion off the table if Taiwan won’t play nice and take the Hong Kong route to glorious togetherness with the “Motherland.”
Other issues that are niggling at the EU relationship with China include, as the National Review puts it, rampant espionage.
Brussels, which houses the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, appears to be a priority target of Beijing and Moscow. Hundreds of agents from those two countries operate around the headquarters of NATO and the EU in that city’s “EU District.” Of the European powers, Britain probably has the most robust counterespionage and foreign-intelligence efforts concerning China and Russia, but money from those nations finds a way into British society, particularly through real estate. And Beijing’s influence on corporate titans seeking access to the China market has been just as effective in Britain as anywhere else.
Overall, the situation can be seen as a vast unravelling, the consequences of which will not be clear until years ahead, but in the meantime Europeans are rethinking all the comfortable post-War certainties.
For European businesses, ‘we talk about a complete readjustment of our view on China over the last six months,’ [Joerg] Wuttke [president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China] told reporters at a briefing for the chamber’s annual China position paper, released Wednesday.
‘I’ve been here on and off 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like this, where all of a sudden, ideological decision-making is more important than economic decision-making,’ Wuttke said.
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A ‘restive’ UN pushes back against Chinese influence
Kashgar’s Sunday market in less repressive times. Photo: WikiCommons.
The Associated Press reports that aftershocks from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (former East Turkestan) report released at the last minute by outgoing human rights head Michelle Bachelet are still reverberating on the sidelines of the United Nations.
‘Inaction is no longer possible,’ Fernand de Varennes, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on minority rights said at a forum sponsored by the Atlantic Council and Human Rights Watch as world leaders descend on New York. ‘If we allow this to go unpunished, what kind of message is being propagated?’
Jeffrey Prescott, a deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, suggested the integrity of the institution was at stake in its response to China.
‘How these atrocities are addressed goes ultimately to the credibility of that system, to the credibility of our international system itself,’ he said. ‘It’s deeply disheartening to see a country that has been so central to the creation of the modern U.N. system, and enjoys its status as a permanent member of the Security Council, so profoundly violating its commitments.’
Quarantine bus crash sparks online anger
Photo: Zachary DeBottis; Pexels.
The China Project has one of the better reports on how a bus crash that killed 27 Chinese headed for quarantine is galvanizing opposition to “dynamic zero covid,” as censors frantically work around the clock to silence a wave of online discontent.
As of Tuesday this week, an apology by a local official had received more than 630 million views on Chinese social media.
It’s unknown whether that official was one of three who have lost their jobs – a district level Communist Party boss, transport official and deputy police chief, according to a statement by the government of Guizhou Province – in China’s mandala of draconian amplification .
‘We must wake up! We must return to normalcy!’ Gao Yu 高昱, the deputy executive editor and head of investigations at Caixin Media, reportedly wrote in light of the anger that erupted on Chinese social media.
Gao advocated “resolutely” opposing PCR testing of the whole population, “resolutely” opposing zero Covid and “resolutely” opposing the lockdown of the country.
It’s fairly safe to say that Gao will now be in resolutely “deep shit.”
Tea-leaf reading the blockade option
Seaman Xi Chan stands lookout on the flight deck as USS Barry transits the Taiwan Strait. Photo: US Navy, WikiCommons.
The Wall Street Journal reports that China’s armed forces are capable of blockading Taiwan, according to a senior US Navy official – as if we haven’t been discussing this for the past two or three decades in the bars and cafes of Taipei.
“They have a very large navy, and if they want to bully and put ships around Taiwan, they very much can do that,” Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
China conducted military drills last month that sought to demonstrate its ability to blockade Taiwan, a democratic, self-governing island it sees as part of its territory. The drills came in response to a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island in August and occurred in six zones that effectively encircled Taiwan. By using a blockade, military analysts say, Beijing could try to force submission by Taiwan’s government without an invasion.
The Taiwan News offered a similar report, and last month the New York Times ran a big piece on the issue, complete with stunning interactive graphics etc.
Obviously, a blockade – in a fairyland scenario for Beijing – would bring Taiwan to its knees waving a white flag, especially in the event of no air-con at the height of summer.
But in the event of no white flag, what next?
Allies would presumably organize blockade breakers and provide lifelines to the world’s leading manufacturer of semiconductor chips and increasingly a democratic cause célèbre as the West rallies around Ukraine and refines its distaste for perceived autocracy.
Rural workers stand aside for the rise of the robots
Migrant workers … Who needs them? Photo: Xu Haiwei; Unsplash.
China, the world’s No 1 manufacturer of robots, “accounted for just under half of all installations of heavy-duty industrial robots last year” – “nearly twice as many new robots as did factories throughout the Americas and Europe” – according to the Wall Street Journal.
By embracing more robots, China’s factories can plug a widening labor market gap and keep costs down, making it less advantageous for Western companies to shift production to other emerging markets or their own home countries.
Since China can no longer rely on an expanding workforce to drive economic growth, automation represents the surest way, according to many economists, for it to enhance the productivity of the workers it has, which is essential if China is to escape the ranks of middle-income countries.
Don’t touch the foreigners
To the left, mature monkeypox virus; to the right, nascent youngsters. Photo: Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regnery; WikiCommons.
If you don’t like being pawed by the locals, now’s the time to visit China – except you can’t because the borders are almost entirely sealed shut.
It’s all about monkeypox, an exclusively foreign disease, much as Covid-19 was exclusively Chinese until approximately December 2019.
A senior Chinese health official advised people to avoid contact with foreigners to prevent monkeypox infection after the first known case of the virus on mainland China was reported.
"To prevent possible monkeypox infection and as part of our healthy lifestyle, it is recommended that 1) you do not have direct skin-to-skin contact with foreigners," Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention posted on his official Weibo page on Saturday.
In remote Nujiang, a persecuted faith
The heavens are high, the emperor far away in Yunnan Province’s Nujiang Valley, but not far away enough to stop a crack down on faith. Photo: Erinpackardphotography | Dreamstime.com.
Minority Christians in the Nujiang Valley, Yunnan Province, are reportedly weathering fiercer crackdowns on their faith than so-called “house Christians” elsewhere in China.
Writes Bitter Winter, an online magazine devoted to religious liberty and human rights:
There is a reason why house churches are treated more harshly than elsewhere in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture. It is an area of China where Han Chinese are a minority. 52% of the population belongs to the Lisu and Nu ethnic minorities. Both speak Tibeto-Burman languages.
The CCP has a real obsession about religion playing a key role in helping ethnic minorities who resist Sinicization and affirm their rights. In the case of Lisu, this obsession is magnified by the fact that the majority of Lisu in China are Christian. Estimates of Christian Lisu in Yunnan vary from the official figure of 300,000 to 700,000, a number often quoted by the Christians themselves.
When CCP agents of nihilism start turning life upside down in the Nujiang, a legendarily remote valley that borders the Tibetan high plateau, you know that no corner of China is untouched by the Party’s latest assault on traditions new and old.
The Greater Sinosphere
Cardinal Zen on trial
Cardinal Zen protesting in 2018. Photo: WikiCommons.
Ninety-year-old Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun (Chén Rìjūn, 陳日君) went on trial in Hong Kong yesterday (Wednesday).
In the words of the Wall Street Journal:
It was a Saturday morning in July 1997, one week after Hong Kong was handed back to China. Cardinal Joseph Zen was waiting inside the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, all smiles. He was there to baptize his friend and the founder of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai. I was there as Jimmy’s godfather.
We were a happy little band that day. But today, 25 years later, Jimmy has been imprisoned. And 90-year old Cardinal Zen, who was arrested in May by national-security police, is about to be put on trial.
The trial was originally set for Monday, but was delayed after the judge contracted Covid-19, Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun and five well-known members of the Democratic Front stand accused of failing to properly register a humanitarian fund for which they were administrators.
Pope Francis has made no comment on the trial. A 2018 Vatican “deal” with China is up for renewal.
Just two years ago Cardinal Zen, who grew up in Shanghai, flew to Rome in a desperate attempt to get the Holy Father to reconsider his China deal. But a pope who always seems to have time for private audiences with celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio refused to meet a cardinal with long firsthand experience of Chinese communism.
Continued quarantine in question
Can Hong Kong’s Rugby Sevens breathe new life into spluttering into the erstwhile Pearl of the Orient. Photo: © Mingchai Law | Dreamstime.com.
The South China Morning Post reports that tourism officials are considering a form of quarantine-free, but conditional, travel with an alleged nod of endorsement from those on high in Beijing.
Government insiders also suggested on Tuesday that finance and tourism officials hoped to be able to further relax the rules to allow visitors to go to restaurants during the proposed seven days of home medical surveillance, in line with appeals from the hospitality sector.
Chief executive John Lee Ka-chiu (Lǐ Jiāchāo, 李家超 ) said there are plans to announce further loosening “as soon as possible.”
The Financial Times notes the Rugby Sevens, due in November, could play a role in reopening the city.
Conceived in 1976 as a vehicle for cigarette advertising, the Sevens tournament has evolved into a rollercoaster weekend of corporate events, financial industry networking and wild boozing in fancy dress. It will return in November for the first time since 2019, after being suspended for two years by the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is really all about getting Hong Kong moving again,” said Robbie McRobbie, Hong Kong Rugby Union chief executive. “And an opportunity to demonstrate that Hong Kong can still throw a good party.”
A funeral, a quiet protest and smattering of arrests
Hong Kong’s mourning for late Elizabeth II has started to spark some official reactions.
A harmonica player has been arrested and Bloomberg reports that Hong Kong police have used a colonial-era law intended to protect the British monarchy to arrest a man near a memorial for Queen Elizabeth II.
Videos posted online Monday night showed people at the event singing Glory to Hong Kong, the unofficial anthem of protesters in 2019.
Meanwhile, Chinese have been taking to social media to ask whether it is “Chinese” to mourn the queen, according to multiple reports.
Anyone who has read the complete works of Xi Jinping would know it’s patently not Chinese to mourn non-Chinese monarchs.
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Public infrastructure and defense dominate 2023 Budget
Taiwan’s charming Legislative Yuan is often the scene of policy scuffles over issues de jour. Photo: © Richie Chan | Dreamstime.com.
Taiwan’s Legislature starts its fall session on September 23.
Rowdy fun and games are par for the course, but this time the KMT is threatening to physically prevent Premier Su Tseng-chang (Sū Zhēn-chāng, 蘇貞昌) from performing his constitutional duty to take questions from legislators about his administration.
Expect photogenic scuffles in the Legislature – unlikely to rival the spectacle in 2017 when the KMT vainly tried to stop passage of a bill permitting US pork imports by hurling pig offal and entrails and fighting with DPP legislators to a soundtrack of police whistles and screaming klaxons.
ChinaDiction hastens to add that while in opposition the DPP had a long record of similar stunts.
Kurosawa-style Kabuki aside, the Legislature’s main business will be to pass Taiwan’s 2023 central government general budget. One top-line item that has received considerable attention is an increase in military spending. As reported in the Taipei Times, Taiwan’s military budget will increase by almost 14% to NT$586.3 billion (about US$18.7 billion) in 2023.
Perhaps surprisingly though, the biggest increase in spending next year is earmarked for public infrastructure. If approved by the Legislature, Taiwan will spend NT$597.2 billion (US$19.7 billion) on the latter.
That’s an eye-popping increase of 32% year-on-year, and it’s likely to increase in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in eastern Hualien County.
Taiwan is already densely lattice-work patterned with advanced infrastructure such as freeways, MRTs in major cities and a high-speed railroad. Why would it be spending so much on infrastructure that will just be destroyed if China’s existential threat is as serious as experts say?
While Taiwan does have legitimate needs to deal with weaknesses in its infrastructure such as the railway and power transmission networks, the real reason is probably the presidential election that will take place in 2024.
Construction projects offer ample opportunities to reward friends, punish enemies, and, in effect, buy voters who by and large still see Taiwan as somewhat underdeveloped and love shiny new infrastructure.
The Tsai (Ing-wen) administration has clearly done the political calculus and has self-servingly concluded that there’s no point in spending more on defense if the KMT gets back into power again and starts pursuing a deal with China.
Hence, more money is needed for infrastructure – Taiwan will receive some US$250 million from the US in Foreign Military Financing in 2023 if the Taiwan Policy Act passes, an annual windfall that will balloon in the last two years covered by the act, in 2026 and 2027, when Taiwan will receive US$2 billion each year.
Taiwan will also increase spending on measures intended to increase the birth rate (+37% to about NT$109 billion) and culture (+11% to about NT$46 billion).
At a total of NT$2.7 trillion, this is Taiwan’s largest budget ever, although it should be noted that Taiwan tax revenue is just around 13% of nominal GDP. The OECD averages around 33.5%.
Legislators will likely make minor adjustments and pass the government’s budget more or less as proposed.
But first some drama is called for. After all, midterm elections are around the corner in November.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Make that languages – plural
Harvest festival, Rukai indigenous people. Photo: Yali Shi | Dreamstime.com.
Taiwan’s Development of National Languages Act requires that national languages (國語) be taught in junior high school and senior high schools for the first time this year. Previously, languages like Taiwanese were taught as “heritage languages” at the elementary school level.
One of Taiwan’s great virtues is the speed with which it implements policies after announcing them. But that speed always causes teething problems in the early days because problems have to be resolved on the fly.
Case in point: not enough qualified teachers of national languages such as Hakka, Taiwanese, and 16 Indigenous languages. The United Daily News reports that in some cases, schools are resorting to online classes or digital textbooks due to the shortage of teachers and lack of printed textbooks.
For decades under the KMT, the National Language was singular in Taiwan – as it still is in the PRC, where it’s known as Putonghua. In Taiwan, it is referred to solely as Mandarin (guóyǔ, 國語, or increasingly huáyǔ, 華語).
But the Act, which “recogniz[es] the multicultural nature of the nation,” defines national languages as the “natural languages (including sign languages) used by the various ethnic groups in Taiwan.”
In other words, Taiwan now has multiple National Languages that are all equal in standing.
In addition, every citizen has the right to choose which language to use in administrative, judicial, and legislative contexts, and the Taiwanese government has a corresponding obligation to provide interpreters when necessary.
Expect the road ahead to be bumpy, but the Development of National Languages Act is a major Tsai administration reform that will shape a more pluralistic Taiwanese identity in the years to come.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Incomes, educations and the creation of elites
According to the Taiwan Reporter (Chinese language), the median household income of Taiwan National University (NTU) students is about NT$1.5 million (US$47,700), which is higher than the nearly NT$1.1 million for public universities overall, and much higher than the NT$1 million median household income of private university students.
Median household incomes of students decline in tandem with university rankings in Taiwan. In other words, in what should come as no surprise, the children of the rich have a higher chance of entering top universities than those of the poor.
For students attending private universities, Taiwan’s inequality is doubly unfair because not only are wealthier households paying much lower tuition for their children to attend public universities; they are also benefiting from the fact that the state lavishes far more resources on its public universities than it does on private universities.
Many private schools are in reality family-controlled businesses that possess almost nothing in terms of endowments except the land they are built on.
Children from wealthy families are six times more likely than children of poor families to attend NTU. As in other East Asian countries, graduates of top public universities generally get the best jobs and the highest pay, making them elite fixtures for life
The Reporter is well-known as an NGO that produces some of Taiwan’s best journalism and most of its investigative journalism. Sadly, they do not have resources for an English website.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Lhasa on the rebound
If the Global Times is to be believed, Lhasa is getting its Covid-19 outbreak under control – at least “partially resuming city life.”
Several local residents in Lhasa reached by the Global Times said people were thrilled to hear the news. The owner of a photography shop in Lhasa told the Global Times he looks forward to opening his business soon, as the tourism season for Xizang is about to come next month.
Commodities including food and other daily necessities can basically meet residents' needs thanks to the local government's full support to ensure adequate supplies.
We’re likely to see a lot of such news from state media – and in China it’s all state media – ahead of the 20th Party Congress, which kicks off on October 16.
Take it with a grain of salt. Omicron sub-variants continue to mutate and become more transmissible and they’re as border-evasive as they are immune evasive.
Unlike Taiwan (see “Make that languages – plural” above), in Tibet, Foreign Policy reports, the Chinese authorities have long been ratcheting up pressure to bury the Tibetan language and replace it with Putonghua.
In 2018, a Chinese court sentenced a Tibetan man, Tashi Wangchuk, to five years of prison because he advocated for Tibetans’ right to their own language, a right by Chinese law. In 2019, another Tibetan man, Tsering Dorje, was detained for a month in a so-called reeducation facility for discussing the importance of the Tibetan language with his brother over the phone—the Chinese authorities framed this as a political crime.
Today, “carrying the flame of the language” falls on the Tibetan diaspora – particularly in India, which is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.
With secondary teachers forbidden to teach Tibetan in Chinese-occupied Tibet, the literacy rate of Tibetan refugees is thought to be higher than that of Tibetans in occupied Tibet.
The Taobao ‘tank-cake man’ returns
Online salesman supreme Li Jiaqi disappeared after promoting a tank-shaped cake on the anniversary of Tiananmen. Photo: Taobao.
Remember Li Jiaqi, the super Taobao livestreamer who could take online sales from nowhere to everywhere?
That is, until he appeared to promote a cake in the shape of a tank on the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.
That’s seriously the kind of faux pas that could hurt feelings China-wide.
Sure enough, the sales wunderkind disappeared.
Three months later, now he’s back with a revived infomercial-variety show featuring group chat, proving that Beijing doesn’t hold grudges.
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