Lines in the sand
As the US abandons all ambiguity over its position on Taiwan and Xi and Putin meet in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, a new world order is emerging
An Uzbekistan stamp, featuring some local horseback ‘cooperation’ (策应). Public Domain.
While more than 300 million Chinese are safely locked indoors ahead of the 20th Party Congress, CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping is on a brief tour of Central Asia, where he’s meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan this afternoon, according to state media (Chinese language).
It is Xi’s first trip abroad in nearly 1,000 days. The last time he met Putin was in February this year when the Russian president visited Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics. The two leaders pledged a “no limits” friendship.
Meanwhile, video footage of Politburo Standing Committee member and China’s third most powerful man, Li Zhanshu – speaking with a pebbles-in-the-mouth Hebei drawl in Vladivostok – confirmed that he did indeed say that Russia has China’s support, whatever that may mean.
His use of the word 策应 (cèyìng) briefly set China-watching Twitter ablaze, but, really, let’s keep things simple and suggest he meant that China would “coordinate with Russia.” It wasn’t exactly an offer of the kind of support Russia probably needs right now – a new army, modern weapons, US dollars?
But it was a “sympathetic admission” that Russia, badgered by the US and NATO, had “no choice” but to invade Ukraine
It echoed the words of Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign affairs official, when he met with Russia's outgoing ambassador to Beijing, Andrey Denisov, on Monday, per Russia’s State Duma website.
‘China is willing to work with Russia to continuously implement the spirit of high-level strategic cooperation between the two countries, safeguard the common interests of both sides, and promote the development of the international order in a more just and rational direction.’
The refrain, “a more just and rational international order” – speaking up and acting on behalf of “victims” of legacy hegemony – is one we’re going to hear a lot more of as the tectonic plates of the Western bloc and the Eastern bloc shudder and jolt us into a new era.
It’s useful to zoom out from all this amid the news that the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has overwhelmingly (17-5) approved the Taiwan Policy Act (TPA) of 2022 (see Taiwan below).
It’s clear that the Ukraine crisis supported by China has fueled a sense of urgency to head off a Taiwan crisis (see Taiwan below) before it happens.
The act is significant, as the Financial Times (paywall) notes, because it will provide:
[US] $6.5bn to fund weapons and other support for Taiwan as the Chinese military escalates its aggressive activity around the country.
The TPA also creates a $2bn loan facility to help Taipei buy weapons, and it makes Taiwan eligible for a programme that would help the country stockpile weapons in advance for any possible future conflict with China.
As China and Russia double down on their agendas and Russia seeks arms from North Korea (according to the New York Times and other media), the US is doubling down on its commitment to defend Taiwan, abandoning its policy of “strategic ambiguity.”
The world order is changing before our eyes.
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Shanghai Expo, March 2022. Photo: WikiCommons.
In good news, Reuters reports that the southwestern capital of Sichuan Province, Chengdu – a city of more than 21 million – has exited full lockdown. That means the resumption of public transport and the reopening of workplaces.
Chengdu residents who want to leave the city, however, need to show evidence of a negative Covid test within the past 24 hours and communities with infections will remain locked down.
Elsewhere around China, lockdowns are directly affecting at least “tens of millions” of people, if not hundreds of millions. Reports are often sketchy and close to impossible to confirm, with official sources tight-lipped and social media censored or subject to so-called “comment flooding,” which sees surges of positive news by CCP supporters in cities where, say, food is difficult to obtain.
Such reports have been coming out of parts of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (former East Turkestan) – in particular from Yili – Lhasa in Tibet and Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province in Southwest China. Certainly, the problems are far more widespread than any outsider can verify, because officials tend to reflexively lockdown prompted by as little as one case rather than face punishment/demotion by the central government.
The New York Times recently cited a Nomura estimate that “49 cities are under some degree lockdown, affecting 292 million people, up from 161 million people a week earlier.”
A multitude of such numbers waft inscrutably out of China.
Two incarcerations and a novel
The literary buzz is the first Uyghur novel to be translated into English: The Backstreets. It’s tempting to say that the backstory – an American anthropologist, a disappeared writer, a disappeared translator, a modern-day gulag – is as interesting as the novel itself.
But The Backstreets is still a disorientating stream-of-consciousness treatment of anomie and obsession with finding meaning in meaningless minutiae by a nameless narrator “who is hired by a company in Urumqi, the regional capital, to fill their diversity quota,” as The Economist puts it: a snapshot of a second-class citizen in his own land, an invisible man.
The homeless narrator writes, “I just wanted a small space – the space a person would need in a graveyard.”
The author, Perhat Tursun, and the translator, known only as Anonymous, have both disappeared into Xinjiang’s “re-education camps.”
A taste of the novel:
As I was brushing the desk, I felt as though it was getting dirtier and dirtier the more I brushed. I noticed the smell of the water from the mop bucket. That smell seeped into my shrunken intestines and deeper into my colon, making my feet feel powerless. Yet, still, all of my desire was concentrated on that paper in front of the door. I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to pick it up and give it a look. In the end, though, I failed, because the numbers on the paper were continuously flying in front of my eyes, forming different shapes and orders. The power of that paper made my disposition itch—it couldn’t stand those numbers. My colleagues started coming in one by one. Every time someone opened or closed the door, my eyes naturally fell on that paper under their feet. I looked carefully at the people around me and walked to the door when they weren’t paying attention. I opened the door and, without picking it up, looked at the numbers on it. I lost myself in the numbers. The relationships between the numbers intoxicated me. I looked at the numbers on the paper and stood there dumfounded, because I noticed that three numbers, written in pencil, were 1, 6, and 9. This was my height. This number bent my knees without resistance and compelled me to bend toward the ground. The repetition of the numbers 6 and 9 made me surrender even more. I was told that this was my weight when I had gone to have a health checkup the day before. I went to this checkup because the office had mobilized us to donate blood. I had always sensed that I was directly related to a bunch of numbers. I didn’t arrange all of these relationships between myself and numbers consciously. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to arrange them like that. For example, I was born in sixty-nine and my height was one meter and sixty-nine centimeters. And from the gate of the office building to the room where I worked it was exactly sixty-nine steps. In my mind the numbers six and nine were related to my fate very firmly. Moreover, this number read as sixty-nine even if it was flipped over. So it gave me a sign of many things. The number that came next, two and one, was exactly my age. I immediately picked up the paper and looked at my colleagues in the office. Nobody had noticed me.
All a-Twitter: state advertising in banned social media
As Reuters reports, Twitter may be off-bounds for ordinary Chinese, but for Chinese officials with an English-language PR budget, it’s somewhere to offload the budget and appear to be doing something, even if China has no foreign tourists and more than 300 million people are in lockdown.
A … review of publicly available government tenders, budget documents and promoted tweets from 2020 to 2022 shows local government authorities and Chinese Communist Party propaganda offices for cities, provinces and even districts across the country have flocked to Twitter … to buy ads.
On Tuesday, a US Senate Judiciary committee held a hearing on a whistleblower complaint filed by Twitter former security chief Peiter Zatko.
Zatko alleges a Chinese spy was working at Twitter and that the revenues from Chinese state advertising were too compelling to give up, despite “unease” at the social media giant about taking the money.
The Greater Sinosphere
The new slave-trade
Sihanoukville in Cambodia has become a Chinese enclave where almost anything goes. Photo: Dmitry Makeev; WikiCommons.
According to a ProPublica report – and confirming long-whispered rumors in China and Southeast Asia – indentured labor is being advertised for sale on Chinese-language chat platforms in Sihanoukville, Cambodia and in other cities in the region.
‘Selling a Chinese man in Sihanoukville just smuggled from China. 22 years old with ID card, typing very slow,’ one ad read, listing [US] $10,000 as the price. Another began: “Cambodia, Sihanoukville, six Bangladeshis, can type and speak English.”
Telegram’s messaging service White Shark Channel, “which had some 5,700 users,” recently closed as the story – human beings for sale – began to leak to the press , but it’s highly unlikely the practice has been stamped out in famously lawless Sihanoukville.
Tough love for expat bankers
Central, Hong Kong, ground zero for expat bankers. Photo: Michal Osmenda, WikiCommons.
If you think you had it hard during the pandemic, spare a thought for expat bankers, many of whom relocated due to Hong Kong’s draconian anti-Covid regulations – only to find themselves “bored in Singapore and horrified by the revocation of their privileges in London,” according to a post in Efinancialcareers that went viral yesterday.
Long-serving bankers in Hong Kong who have argued that the expat exodus would be temporary are feeling vindicated. ‘If anything, people are returning now,’ said … [a] senior banker, who said that a member of his team had returned with his family to Hong Kong nine months after moving back to London. ‘The main reason is quality of life. They have club membership and servants in Hong Kong, while in London they had a rude awakening.’
Senate panel approves $6.5bn in military aid
Robert Menendez, Democratic head of the Senate foreign relations committee. Photo: WikiCommons.
The US Senate’s Foreign Relations committee passed its version of the Taiwan Policy Act by a vote of 17 to 5 on Wednesday.
According to Newsweek, the bill’s Republican co-author Lindsey Graham called it “the most comprehensive restructuring of US policy towards Taiwan since the Taiwan Relations Act [TRA] of 1979."
Committee Chairman, Democrat Bob Menendez, a long-time supporter of Taiwan, claims that the bill “maintains cross-Strait stability, all while reinforcing a status quo that is under threat from Beijing."
Regardless of whether US Taiwan policy is being restructured, the bill is chock full of things that will make Beijing apoplectic. In particular, the bill in its current form will provide US$6.5 billion in funds to defend Taiwan and will “treat” Taiwan as a non-NATO ally.
The US$6.5 billion is actually an increase over what the bill had initially approved, and “treating” Taiwan as an ally rather than designating it as such is a sop to the White House, which expressed reservations about what are being called “symbolic aspects” of the bill.
While the White House may well not want to deal with the fall out of such “symbolic acts” – such as renaming Taiwan’s de-facto embassy in the US, in reality, the executive branch is probably more concerned that Congress is encroaching on the president’s primacy in dealing with foreign powers.
No one cares anymore about Beijing’s hissy fits; the symbolic versus substance of the discourse around the bill in recent days reflects US domestic concerns.
The Taiwan Presidential Spokesperson welcomed the passing of the act in a public notice on Twitter.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Back to 1992 … Again
In July, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) released a video carefully explaining formation of the so-called 1992 Consensus and, most unusually, admitting that the consensus contains not only an affirmation of “one China,” but also different interpretations of what “one China” means.
For years, Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has hammered the Kuomintang (KMT) over the fact that China normally equates the 1992 Consensus with its one China policy and studiously avoids any discussions of differing interpretations that the KMT claims offer a way for the Republic of China to continue to exist under a one China framework.
On Monday, however, a strongly worded essay appeared on the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference website saying that “there is only one China and no differing interpretations.”
While it was quickly taken down, the essay was widely reported in Taiwan as evidence of China’s intransigence on one China and its intolerance for the ROC. It is possible that the original TAO video and the quick take down of the more recent essay are an effort by the PRC to help the KMT in important upcoming local elections.
It’s unlikely to help. Cross-strait relations play a very minor role in Taiwan’s equivalent of mid-terms – for positions such as mayor of Taipei etc – unlike the presidential elections, which have in the past tilted one way or the other on China related issues.
This year, for example, Taiwanese voters seem much more concerned with whether candidates have cheated on their MA theses than they are in candidates’ positions on China issues, the 1992 Consensus, or even increased military pressure by Beijing in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s fateful visit.
In other words – at least for the upcoming November local elections – in Taiwan, as elsewhere, life goes on and votes will be cast with scant regard for the bigger global issues of the day.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Pro-Taiwan parliamentarians descend on DC
In an unannounced gathering on Tuesday, some 60 parliamentarians from around the world met at Twin Oaks, Taiwan’s diplomatic mansion in Washington, to put pressure on democracies to stand firm against China, reports Reuters.
Taiwan’s de-facto ambassador Hsiao Bi-khim hosted the gathering, which included parliamentarians from Europe, Asia and Africa, amid heightened concerns that after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Beijing might act on its bluster and try to take Taiwan by force.
The group, consisting of members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) meeting this week in Washington, is expected to sign a pledge to push their governments to adopt "greater deterrence against military or other coercive" actions by the People's Republic of China (PRC) against Taiwan, according to a draft seen by Reuters.
‘We will campaign to ensure our governments signal to the PRC that military aggression towards Taiwan will cost Beijing dearly,’ the draft read.
‘Economic and political measures, including meaningful sanctions, should be considered to deter military escalation, and to ensure trade and other exchanges with Taiwan can continue unimpeded.’
Chris Taylor, Bangkok
US company implicated in collection of blood/DNA
The Jokhang Palace in the heart of Lhasa. Photo: ChinaDiction.
As reports that China is collecting blood/DNA samples of ethnic Tibetans become increasingly credible, the Intercept reports that Tibetan police turned to Thermo Fisher, a Massachusetts-based company, for US$160,000 worth of profiling kits and other supplies.
Thermo Fisher has:
Come under fire in the past for selling similar supplies to police in Xinjiang. The deal, revealed in procurement documents published on a Chinese government website, will provide DNA kits and replacement parts for sequencers to authorities in Tibet, the site of long-standing government repression.
‘The deployment of DNA databases across the whole of China lacks elementary fundamental rights safeguards,’ said Yves Moreau, a bioinformatician at Belgium’s University of Leuven who uncovered the procurement documents through the Chinese search engine Baidu. ‘Western suppliers should not aid and abet those abuses.’
The news comes amid two reports from human rights groups describing a vast Chinese government drive to collect DNA from ethnic Tibetans. In a report published Tuesday by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, author Emile Dirks estimates that since 2016 authorities have taken DNA from 919,000 to 1.2 million Tibetans — a fourth to a third of the region’s population.
Tiananmen remembered in song
Photo credit: Quixote Productions.
Broadway World reports that casting is complete for Tiananmen: The Musical, which will premiere in 2023.
The cast for the reading of Tiananmen, 100% Asian American and Pacific Islander, includes Cáitlín Burke (The Sound of Music), Kai An Chee (Miss Saigon), Grace Choi (Avenue Q), Karl Josef Co (Pacific Overtures, Classic Stage Revival), Jason Ma (Miss Saigon) and Paulina Yeung (The King and I) [among many others]
Wu'er Kaixi, who helped lead the protests in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 and now lives in Taiwan as an activist for democracy, has joined the production as conceiver and creative consultant.
When asked whether he was surprised that the events of 1989 were being celebrated in song, an unflappable Wu’er Kaixi told ChinaDiction by text message:
‘Yes and no. Something like this is way overdue. Tiananmen is so huge a deal, and [has been] neglected for too long.’
Darren Lee, the Chinese-American director told Broadway World:
‘In light of the ongoing debate, indeed fight between authoritarianism and democracy Tiananmen is a brave and necessary work to remind us all of the hinge of world history that happened in Tiananmen Square at a time when China is trying to erase all that happened there from memory.’
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