'"When the US drove ... NATO expansion ... all the way to Russia's doorstep..., did it ever think about the consequences of pushing a big country to the wall?' – China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson.
Yes, that would appear to be China’s preliminary media playbook, as we noted in Monday’s ChinaDiction newsletter: “Allegedly a leaked notice to the media advices against writing anything unfavorable about Russia or anything positive about Europe.”
In short, this is almost certainly not the conflict that that China wants at the moment, but now the long-simmering standoff between autocracy and democracy has taken up arms, China’s reactions to events in Ukraine, will be scrutinized in infinite detail because China’s the autocratic hippo in the room.
The assault on Ukraine may be Putin getting what he wants while he still can. The story is different with China—a power with increasing economic, diplomatic, and military might. Russia is in the headlines today, but China will be the spearhead of the authoritarian cause. President Xi Jinping’s nationalist fervor, commitment to the restoration of Chinese power, and more aggressive approach compared with his predecessors when it comes to territorial and maritime disputes, relations with the U.S. and its allies, as well as the international system writ large, have already become a destabilizing force in Asia.
China will continue to be a destabilizing force in Asia, but as for Taiwan being next on the firing line: not now, not next week, not next year. China is just not ready and has too much on its hands already (Xi Jinping’s aspirational third term, a real estate crisis, the war on private sector profits etc, etc) – and even though it will watch events in Ukraine with great interest, it will not use them as a pretext for action against Taiwan.
Yes, the New York Times reports:
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, on Wednesday ordered the island’s armed forces and security personnel to step up surveillance and strengthen defenses as she sought to reassure those who see, in the Ukraine conflict, echoes of the self-governed territory’s own existential crisis.
But that’s routine. It’s what any government in similar circumstances. All the same, not everyone in the Taiwan government was in a fighting mood:
The death of Taiwan aside, China is very clear that Ukraine and Taiwan are unconnected – and for once China’s not dissimulating.
Hua Chunying, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson:
It is unwise of the Taiwan authorities to try to exploit the Ukraine issue to its benefit. Taiwan is not Ukraine. It is an inalienable part of China’s territory, and this is an indisputable historical and legal fact.
The implication is that Russia is invading a sovereign nation that it feels is inalienably displaced homeland and will fight to bring it home, while Taiwan is simply inalienably China and is coming home fight or no fight.
Such are the nuances of “One China”.
In the meantime, China needs to buy time. That means calling for peace talks (yeah, good luck), not criticizing Russia, blaming the US for pushing Russia too far and cutting Russia financial slack under sanctions pressure in whatever way possible – first off the bat is wheat, as the South China Morning Post reports:
China has announced it is fully open to Russian wheat imports, in the latest sign of their strengthening bilateral ties as the Ukraine crisis is unfolding before a global audience and in the wake of fresh sanctions being imposed on Moscow.
Obviously, we can’t blame China – with its so-called wolf-warrior diplomacy and chip-on-the-shoulder swagger – for Putin’s Ukraine blitzkrieg, but it hasn’t helped, and whatever the risks of this divided new world order are, they’re now irrevocably set in motion.
China’s media Rottweiler, the Global Times’s, comments on China’s “hard-hitting” remarks at the US-China Summit in Alaska last year were fair warning that China was ready to take things up a notch.
The arrogant Western world led by the US is no longer eligible to deal with the world's second-largest economy with a condescending attitude. The Alaska talks reflect the fact that "America is in the process of coming to the painful realization that China is now equal.
Now let’s see how China deals with its newfound equality in a confrontation that won’t be over until one side or the other is defeated – however long that takes.
What’s in a republic?
Briefly, because we don’t want to tie ourselves into knots over this, Russia has recognized the Donetsk and Lugansk separatist republics in Ukraine as independent. The most likely reaction is for China to simply pretend it never happened – it will certainly not hit the Chinese-language press. The only way such a move could make any sense in the Chinese world would be for, say, China to somehow infiltrate New Taipei City and organize a successful referendum for unification and then invade Taiwan to protect New Taipei City from the rest of Taiwan.
China’s a strange place, China-Taiwan politics are weird, but overall it’s not all that nuts.
At the Genocide Museum in Istanbul, Uyghur students are giving the public an opportunity to “to make people viscerally feel their ongoing genocide … with immersive simulation rooms,” reports Coda Story.
‘For the simulation part, we want visitors to actually feel the experience,’ said Idris Ayas, 29, who came to Istanbul to study law 10 years ago. ‘By touching the Tiger Chair, by visiting the forced cotton-picking farm, the forced abortion room and the concentration camp cells, visitors actually feel that these things are really happening in 2022.’
It’s a powerful story and check out the photography by Emin Özmen, a Magnum photographer based in Istanbul, Turkey.
In Hong Kong, the Covid crisis continues to lurch from bad to worse, with the poor taking the brunt of measures nobody in a place as rich as Hong Kong should have to put up with.
As the Washington Post writes:
When Chan, a Hong Kong construction worker, tested positive for the coronavirus, he had nowhere to go. The 38-year-old shared a cramped apartment with seven others, including a toddler and his aging father, so he moved into the stairwell.
For 16 days, Chan, who asked only for his last name to be used out of embarrassment, followed the city’s mandatory self-isolation policy, living on the roof of the building in a steady drizzle amid unseasonably cold temperatures. He ate instant noodles and defecated in plastic bags. He slept in three jackets and two trousers with a blanket dampened by the rain seeping under the rooftop door. He said he often wakened from a dream that he was naked and freezing.
Meanwhile, also in Hong Kong, somebody in PR should be out of a job:
China backs off from banning vendors from using QR code payments, reports the South China Morning Post.
China has back-pedaled on a plan to ban merchants from using personal QR codes to receive payments, maintaining the status quo in which millions of street vendors, small businesses and even beggars rely on the simple scanning of a bar code to receive money.
It marked a rare retreat by the People’s Bank of China over its control of Alipay and WeChat Pay, which jointly control over 90 per cent of the country’s mobile payments market, after the proposed ban on using personal QR codes to receive money sparked controversy.
Tesla is planning to expand its Shanghai operations “to meet growing demand for exports,” according to Reuters.
Just that necessary daily reminder that business goes on whatever …
The Out of Taiwan theory, a great favorite of ChinaDiction, gets a writeup in Taiwan Insight, in an interview with the late Professor Robert Blust, famed (in Taiwan) for stating:
Austronesian expansion out of Taiwan is one of the greatest chapters in human history.
ChinaDiction is throwing this one in (and don’t forget to look at the Coda picture below from Orchid Island) to cheer up an otherwise gloomy newsletter, but Blust genuinely was a blast:
The Austronesian expansion [sic] out of Taiwan to more than halfway around the world, crossing 206 degrees in the longitude to Madagascar and Easter Island or Rapanui. They crossed thousands of miles of open seas thousands of years ago. Their navigation knowledge and outrigger canoes have taken them as far as Fuji, Tonga, and Samoa, around 1,000 B.C. Then, there was a long pause for two thousand years until the first archaeological sign showed up in Eastern Polynesia. (…) This was an amazing feat, an human accomplishment. It amazed the first Europeans who arrived, the Cook expeditions between 1768 and 1779.
Just as interestingly, as Taiwan Insight notes:
The Taiwan government has embraced this theory of “Taiwan being the Austronesian homeland” and promoted its indigenous cultures to emphasize Taiwan’s multi-ethnic and multicultural society, differentiating Taiwan from China. On the other hand, it also mobilized this Austronesian linguistic and cultural heritage to build diplomatic relations with the Pacific Islands, advocating the practice of Austronesian diplomacy and repositioning Taiwan in the Asia-Pacific. Meanwhile, the indigenous peoples in Taiwan have strategically made room for maneuver in this political shift to argue for self-determination and justice over land rights and environmental issues, among others, while pursuing cultural and linguistic revitalization via exchanges with the broader Austronesian communities.
Book Review: A Billion Voices: China's Search for a Common Language
Slight cheat, because I wanted a book review but I haven’t finished reading the latest, what with the war and everything, so here’s an edited-down version of one of my China favorites that nobody of note published anyway.
AN OLD JOKE in linguistics runs: What is the difference between a language and a dialect? (pause for dramatic effect) A language is a dialect with its own army.
David Moser, author of A Billion Voices: China’s Search for a Common Language, has heard the joke; he even addresses it. But in the midst of a compelling discussion of a generally overlooked subject—the centrality of establishing a common tongue and a shared written language for all of China—the joke still mocks from the margins.
Moser’s response might be construed as evasive and Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-serving: “In language studies, there are almost no strict delineations between dialects, only blurred statistical regions.”
This may be true, but when Europeans travel to the other side of a “blurred statistical region”—from somewhere they understand what is said and can comprehensibly reply to it, to somewhere they cannot—“dialect” is unlikely to be the word that springs to their minds.
It is a subject that has provided rich ground for linguistic quips, with Chinese scholar John DeFrancis concluding, as Moser reports, that the question “‘Do you speak Chinese?’ is akin to asking ‘Do you speak Romance?’”
This where Moser’s book is at its best—fecund in vivid details that illuminate the enormous challenge of establishing a shared spoken and written language for a vast landmass better described as an empire than a nation. It also offers the lay reader a relatively effortless introduction to the broad scope of language-policy debate among Chinese scholars from the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 through and until years after the establishment of the PRC in 1949.
In short, when modern language-policy reformers at last confronted the dilemma of rejuvenating an ossified literary language and making it accessible to ordinary Chinese, the possibilities were so diverse they included radical solutions such as abandoning Chinese characters altogether. “Imagine,” Moser writes, “a London of the 1920s in which all scholarly books were still published in Latin, enjoyed by only a small percentage of literate scholars, while the works of Shakespeare, Dickens and Darwin remained inaccessible to the masses.”
Amid such fractious disagreements, enter Mao Zedong, who in 1949 was to become “the great helmsman” of the PRC. As Moser writes, in 1940, when the Chinese communists had retreated to regroup in remote Yan’an, in north-western China’s Shaanxi Province, “Mao and his comrades joined in a nationwide movement to establish a ‘New Writing Society’ … setting their sights on an outmoded feudal enemy, the Chinese characters.”
“Sooner or later,” Mao told the journalist Edgar Snow (author of Red Star Over China) “we will have to abandon characters altogether, if we are to create a new social culture in which the masses fully participate.”
It never came to pass. In fact, when Mao and his fellow revolutionaries seized Beijing (or Peking, as it was known in English at the time) from the Nationalists, or the Kuomintang (KMT)—who had ruled China since 1919, and earlier under other names—China was as linguistically diverse and disunited as ever. Arguably, in many ways, it still is.
It is difficult to imagine what China might have become if Mao had stuck to his plan of abandoning Chinese characters, but a possible outcome is that it might have incidentally given rise to regional linguistic nationalisms within China by giving literary voice to silenced vernaculars.
Some of what follows in Moser’s A Billion Voices—in documenting the PRC’s controversial simplification of Chinese characters, establishing Pinyin as a standard Romanization system, and the pushback by “prestige dialects” such as Cantonese and Shanghainese—may include some dry moments for non-specialists. But much nevertheless remains to command the attention of readers on a subject central to China’s modernizing mission.
Sisters, brothers, you may know your Taiwan history and culture, but what’s this boat?
Taiwan twerps were quick to respond it was a Dawu, or Yami – they have petitioned the Taiwan government to be called Tao – indigenous people’s boat on Lanyu Island (Orchid Island), 45km south of mainland Taiwan.
Perhaps in boats like these, Taiwan long ago conquered the entire Austronesian world. One wonders whether Taiwan’s considered demanding it all back as an inalienable right.