Let It Snow, Let It Snow
Hong Kong is buckling and Russian announcements on Ukraine are ominous; thank heavens we have the Olympics to jolly our minds into happier places.
First up, a bit of housekeeping: I’m slotting in this ChinaDiction after yesterday’s so that the future three issues a week happen on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. These are the kinds of things you should think about before you start projects like this, but my readership are among the best people on the internet so I’m sure they won’t hold it against me
Meanwhile, to make this issue easy for myself, I really could just say, Boy, China, Hong Kong and Ukraine are really ruining Xi Jinping’s Winter Olympics. But I’m going to do the right thing and script a proper ChinaDiction, even if it’s a bit shorter than yesterday’s because I’m kind of tired.
Ukraine just won’t go away
It’s still a big deal and anyone who says otherwise needs to cut back on the hopium. The New York Times, just for one, gets about as gloomy as it possibly could in yesterday’s head and subhead:
‘Artillery Exchanges in Eastern Ukraine May Presage Invasion, US Warns’
As shelling intensified in the east, officials warned that Moscow might use false claims of ‘genocide’ against Russians in the region as a pretext for an attack.
President Vladimir V Putin of Russia this week repeated his false claim that Ukraine was carrying out a ‘genocide’ against Russian speakers in the country’s east, while the Russian authorities announced an investigation into supposed ‘mass graves’ of Russian-speaking victims of Ukrainian forces.
Amichai Stein @AmichaiStein1Kremlin spox Dmitry Peskov: Ukraine's army has taken "provocative actions that have only intensified in the last day"
Presumably, China’s top leaders, who lurked in the shadows for the past week, have been extensively discussing the ramifications of any Russian actions in Ukraine. The principle issue, according to various anonymous sources, is how China is to respond. It may well, in some ways, be strategically convenient to cozy up with Russia, but it will come at the expense of further alienating Europe and the US, among others. US-China relations are bad enough as it is, and if Beijing plans to lend Moscow a helping hand amid crushing US/European sanctions, those relations will undoubtedly reach a new nadir.
In other words, it’s probably safe to say that Beijing wishes Ukraine didn’t exist – and the same can probably be said of Hong Kong, which hasn’t miraculously rebounded in the past 24 hours, although there are at least some PR upsides for China in dispatching a life-saving cavalry operation.
China dispatches teams to mass test Hong Kong
As if Hong Kong hasn’t been through enough in recent years, Chinese experts are now on their way to assist in testing everyone in Hong Kong. The Sing Tao Daily reports that those who refuse may be subject to a HK$10,000 (US$1,280) fine, but the ruling is yet to be set in stone. It goes without saying that Hong Kong will have to change its approach to covid if it discovers it has, say, 10 times more cases than hospital beds.
But there are further ramifications as The Economist remarks:
Mainland scholars urge Hong Kong to accept pandemic help from the central government to boost national pride. They charge those seeking access to the outside world with elitism: opening to the mainland, they say, is what the masses want. China’s top official in Hong Kong, Luo Huining, last month warned the city against “self-pity” over its role as an adjunct to China’s overall development. Behind debates about public health, arguments about loyalty lurk. They will outlast even this relentless pandemic.
Others think the ramifications extend beyond national pride:
As reported by Bloomberg, the situation may help speed up the elimination of any traces of democracy in Hong Kong too, which would be an added bonus for China:
Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative member on China’s top legislative body, told a radio program Thursday that potential candidates might need to focus on containing the outbreak. Tam, a member of the National People’s Congress’s powerful Standing Committee, cited remarks a day earlier by President Xi Jinping instructing city leaders to make fighting the pandemic their top priority.
What about nukes?
The Atlantic has a fascinating article on China scaling up its nuclear arsenal:
Unfortunately, 2022 is shaping up to be a Cold War rewrite, with an unhappy ending. The adversarial shift in China’s overall posture, combined with President Xi Jinping’s apparent willingness to countenance Russia’s persistent aggression in Europe, could place the US in the very predicament it evaded decades ago: a standoff with a tag team of nuclear-armed authoritarian states bent on rolling back American power.
James Acton, a co-director of the nuclear-policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, Rather than in an intercontinental nuclear slugfest, Beijing might be more willing to employ nuclear weapons in a local conflict—for instance, by dropping one on a U.S. military base in Japan. ‘I think China’s development of its regional forces is much more concerning to me and potentially offensively oriented,’ Acton said. ‘I believe that China wants options to fight a limited nuclear war, which is a new element of its strategy.’
No comment on the tweet below, other than to remark that nuclear apocalyptic anxiety evaporated with the end of the Cold War. Is it due for a rerun?
China isn’t impressed by an Indian raid on Huawei. In fact, commerce ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said China was “seriously concerned” about the raid and the fact that India recently banned 54 Chinese mobile apps – all this against a backdrop of rising tensions over the India-China Himalayan border.
Searches are being conducted at the company’s premises in the city of Gurgaon, just outside the capital, New Delhi, and in the southern tech hub of Bangalore, an Indian tax official told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
“The searches are still on. We are looking at their financial books and records,” she said.
Taiwan has proposed enacting a law to prevent China stealing its world-leading chip technology, Reuters reports.
Tech powerhouse Taiwan makes the majority of the world’s most advanced semiconductor chips, used in everything from fighter jets to mobile phones, and the government has long worried about Chinese efforts to copy that success, including through economic espionage, poaching talent and other methods.
Taiwan’s cabinet said it had proposed new offenses for ‘economic espionage’ under the national security law, setting out punishment of up to 12 years in prison for those who leak core technologies to China or ‘foreign enemy forces’.
The talk – and rightly so – is all of ethnic Uyghur genocide in Xinjiang, but the New Statesman has published a touching – if not somewhat painful – piece on the destruction of Uyghur culture.
The Chinese state has taken an interest in the meshrep, which is now central to its cultural industry in the Uyghur region. In 2010 the Chinese government won recognition for it on Unesco’s ‘List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding’. The Chinese state supports lavish staged performances in the regional capital Ürümqi and tourist destinations such as Kashgar, and it trains musicians in official, scripted versions of the meshrep at the Xinjiang Arts Institute.
These performances pry the meshrep out of its community context in favor of large theaters. The audience is composed of strangers, who spectate rather than participate. Community aid, social interaction and any lyrics deemed ‘religious’ are all gone. ‘The time of meshrep’ under the moon has become the time of variety shows under the klieg lights.
Today, restrictions on gatherings of more than a few Uyghurs in private settings have made the meshrep almost impossible.
I have to admit, I thought this was going to be awful – another Year in Shanghai, written by a foreign correspondent. But it wasn’t awful – not at all. It comes together through unpretentious encounters with ordinary peoples whose travails and successes are not treated as platforms to make sweeping statements about China.
OK, it’s inevitable that the occasional China digression rears its head. The contrast between glittering Shanghai and the muddy, backward villages that litter the Chinese countryside – and the much-despised role the hukou, “household registration” – plays in all this drags on, for example:
By immobilizing the peasantry, forcing them to tend the and at mostly subsistence levels of compensation, and excluding them from access to social welfare and ability to move to cities, this approach created two very different societies. And given the immutable, hereditary nature of the hukou classifications, the peasantry de facto became an underclass.
Stuff like this is not Street of Eternal Happiness’s strong point – there are hundreds of books out there lecturing us about the hukou system and who knows what else: Street of Eternal Happiness is at its best when the author is just wandering around his Shanghai neighborhood and chatting with the neighbors, who are basically just people getting by amid joys and trials much like our own.
Let’s close with a total geek-out on Hokkien, or as the author, Michael Cannings, points out, a sinitic language that’s also variously known as “Amoy, Taiwanese, Lan-nang, Holo, Hoklo, Minnan, Ban-lam, Tai-gi, Tai-gu, Tai-oan-oe, Fujianese and more besides.”