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Red Star Over the Pacific
They come in peace, offering win-win security solutions and investments – and, for some politicians, they're just too big to not appease.
Art: Mark Corry; Communist Party of China Pacific slogan: total fiction.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong had a “sidelines” meeting with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and reportedly received a Beijing-drafted list of demands (paywall) as a prelude to a “reset” or a “normalization” of relations.
They were, according to The Daily Telegraph: get the relationship “back on the right track” (Yeah, that’s you, Australia), “treat China as a partner rather than a rival and seek common ground while shelving differences,” “reject manipulation by a third party” (Yeah, that’s you America) and build “public support featuring positiveness and pragmatism.”
The Australian prime minister sensibly rejected the offer:
Australia ‘won’t respond’ to a list of demands from China, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says, as Canberra seeks to set a new path for diplomatic relations with Beijing.
Basically, Australia’s problem is how to normalize a relationship that acrimoniously frayed when the Australian government (reasonably, it could be argued) called for an independent inquiry into a viral outbreak in China that has killed millions worldwide, and looks likely, long-term, to kill millions more.
Although there’s slightly more to it than that.
As The Guardian notes: “the Turnbull government’s package of foreign interference laws perceived to target China, and the ban on China’s Huawei from participating in Australia’s 5G rollout” were other factors in invoking the wrath of the PRC.
It’s a dilemma in that well-tried approaches – like, let’s talk this over – don’t work with China. Oh, Beijing may pretend to listen and may even make promises, but they’ll do whatever it is they’re going to do anyway.
Australia – and New Zealand and some of the Pacific Islands – would like to be able to buddy up to China on terms China will never accept – as, err, equals perhaps?
As far as Beijing is concerned, Beijing calls the shots, which is why New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s comments on how to deal with the Taiwan problem, as reported by the Melbourne Age, make her seem more soft-headed than prime-ministerial:
Diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy until it’s proven that it has failed, dialogue and diplomacy are incredibly important,” Ardern told a packed-out gathering at the think tank’s headquarters in St James on Friday (London time).
Why these strident calls for diplomacy and dialogue with a rising nation state that does neither?
One narrative is that the sky will fall if we don’t cravenly yield to China.
But that begs the question: what really happened when Beijing got busy with sanctions on Australia? Reports News.com.au:
Despite Beijing’s attempts to hit Australia’s economy where it hurt, for the most part different export destinations were found, and the blows to many industries were taken in their stride. In fact, the ban on imports of Australian coal ended up backfiring.
The high energy and generally cleaner coal Australia exports was swiftly picked up by other importers, such as India and Japan. Meanwhile China ended up paying high prices for poorer quality coal due to such a major disruption in the market.
But amid all of Beijing’s broad-cased trade actions against Australia, there have been some key exports they have steered well clear from being targeted – most notably iron ore.
But there’s also the terrifying issue of China’s “unstoppable rise.” One day, they’ll be running the world, so we’d best stay on side with them.
Former prime minister Paul Keating, who sits on an advisory board to the state-owned China Development Bank – a totally uncompromising role – described Australia’s planned acquisition of eight US nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS alliance as “like throwing a handful of toothpicks at a mountain.”
Fortunately, florid Keating-style apologists are not the only the only voices in the room. As China exile, dissident and activist Wu’er Kaixi said here on ChinaDiction several days ago, “Beijing needs to know we’re not afraid,” adding that it would make the world a safe place.
The good news is that – when you raise your ears and eyes above the bluster-as-usual that defines the rise of China – there is less to be afraid of than China would have you think.
They probably need you as much as you need them, at least.
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The Virus Contemplates Its Next Move
Big White madness in Shanghai earlier this year. Photo: Wiki Commons.
By official admission, BA.5 has extended its tentacles into China – and BA.5 and hot-on-BA.5-heels BA.2.75 really are variants of concern. They may be up there with measles in terms of transmissibility and they may have acquired a Delta-like throwback mutation that allows them to target the lower lungs rather than the upper respiratory tract, making them potentially more dangerous, even though there remain many unknowns.
The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports:
Chinese leader Xi Jinping had lauded the effectiveness of the nation’s zero-Covid policies in containing outbreaks driven by the highly infectious Omicron variants, which other countries have failed to keep in check. But given that only five of the 31 provincial-level regions have reported zero cases since Shanghai’s lockdown officially ended June 1, preventing another outbreak without severe damage to the economy will be a daunting challenge.
‘Investors still have the muscle memory of the dark days of the months-long Shanghai lockdown earlier this year and worry that we might be going back,’ said Qi Wang, chief executive of MegaTrust Investment (HK), a Hong Kong-based fund manager that focuses on stocks listed in mainland China.
Frankly, short of mass fudging the numbers and declaring chimeric victories (not inconceivable), it’s difficult to see how China slips the economic noose of a next wave of lockdowns.
Bloomberg notes of the latest variant to raise concern.
Scientists say the variant – called BA.2.75 – may be able to spread rapidly and get around immunity from vaccines and previous infection. It’s unclear whether it could cause more serious disease than other omicron variants, including the globally prominent BA.5.
‘It’s still really early on for us to draw too many conclusions,’ said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. ‘But it does look like, especially in India, the rates of transmission are showing kind of that exponential increase." Whether it will outcompete BA.5, he said, is yet to be determined.
Lanzhou, a city of 4 million, went into lockdown Wednesday and Shanghai remained on lockdown tenterhooks, Bloomberg reported:
Shanghai could be headed for another citywide lockdown -- with a number of apartment blocks and neighborhoods already subject to movement restrictions -- remains. That angst was fueled Monday by two neighborhood committees issuing an open letter calling on residents to stockpile enough food and medical supplies to last 14 days, according to reports carried in media outlets including eastday.com Tuesday night. There was no sign of panic buying in Shanghai as of Wednesday.
In Henan, People Want Their Savings Back
As long ago as late May, reports of bank runs in Henan Province were making their way into Western media. Which is why it’s odd that they and the attendant mass protests are still making waves. Such things are usually brushed until carpet in the interests of “harmony”
As Liqian Ren points out in a long but worthy Twitter thread, the protests are against local officials and appeal not just to the central government but even to the foreign press, which is obviously not able to actually attend.
The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports:
On China’s Twitter-like social-media site Weibo, censors worked in vain to staunch the flow of footage from Sunday’s clash. The images agitated internet users, many of whom were familiar with the bank customers’ cause following the earlier health-code controversy.
“What have the ordinary people done wrong?” one Weibo user wrote on Monday afternoon, reflecting a sentiment common across the site. “They got beaten up after they lost their money?”
The South China Morning Post reports that some savers will be getting their money back – providing their deposits don’t exceed CNY50,000 (US$7,450).
A saver surnamed Hang said she was disappointed that regulators did not offer a full repayment. Hang and her parents have a total of 860,000 yuan in savings with three of the four named rural banks in Henan.
‘It doesn’t solve the underlying problem,’ Hang said of the repayment plan. ‘It looks like Henan really has no money. If the central government does not bail it out, it is us – the depositors – who will suffer.’
In a cautionary tone, The Economist (paywall) observes:
China’s financial system is notoriously opaque. So the damage wrought by crooked bankers often goes unseen, sometimes for years, before exploding into the open in the form of enormous losses for investors. Corruption can lead to bad investments, toxic debts and capital outflows, says Zhu Jiangnan of the University of Hong Kong. These can quickly become threats to financial stability.
We’re Sorry, Really …
According to research by the Swedish National China Centre, Chinese consumers have mounted at least 78 boycott campaigns against foreign companies.
Most of them – more than 80% Bloomberg reports – apologize, even when they shouldn’t have to. The apologies come thick and fast when foreign companies face …
… backlash for actions or advertising seen as infringing on China’s territorial integrity, such as the status of Taiwan and Tibet or the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. By contrast, only about a quarter of firms expressed regret after making a stance against sourcing products from Xinjiang.
‘The emergence of alternative domestic products in China and a rise in online nationalism are putting a lot of pressure on global brands,’ said Hillevi Parup, co-author of the study in an email interview. “Consumer boycotts are on the rise in China and this trend doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.”
Ironically, the report suggests that the apologies often don’t even work.
The researchers also found that the public reaction to company apologies “appears arbitrary.” In some cases, an apology led to further backlash with social media users calling out firms such as Hugo Boss AG for being “two-faced.”
“An apology isn’t a safe bet,” Parup said. “Based on our observations, the best option may be to try to avoid the public eye altogether.”
Or not attempt to do business there.
The Greater Sinosphere
East Turkestan (Xinjiang)/Thailand
Thai Human Rights NGOs Take Uyghur Rights to the House Committee of Foreign Affairs
A Uyghur woman in Xinjiang (the best we could do). Photo: Wiki Commons
Prachathai English, a Thai human rights and democracy-focused website, reports that a petition has been submitted to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, demanding that the Thai government stop returning Uyghur refugees to China.
According to Chalida Tajaroensuk of the People’s Empowerment Foundation, a local NGO involved in refugee issues, in 2013, some 1,700 Uyghur women and children were relocated to Turkey.
Some 56 Uyghur refugees are currently being detained by Thai Immigration authorities and the Thai government is under pressure from Beijing to deport them back to China.
Sunai Phasuk, an expert from Human Rights Watch (HRW), noted that the 56 detainees have yet to receive preliminary consideration for asylum as stipulated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
He is concerned that there may be a repetition of a 2015 incident, when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and the junta allowed Thai sovereignty to be breached by deporting 109 Uyghur refugees back to an uncertain future in China. The Uyghurs see Thailand as a path to Muslim countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, and he argues that Thailand must abide by its commitment to international conventions and laws by not sending people back to places where they would face possible dangers.
That the issue is being discussed in Thailand at all is a glimmer of hope that civil rights groups can at least bring pressure to bear on the generals’ government. Hopefully, it will also lead to new lives for homeless Uyghurs.
Macau’s Casinos Finally Fall
They held out for more than two years, but Macau’s casinos have finally shuttered under the assault of SARS-CoV-2, or a variant or two of it, reports the BBC.
Macau has officially recorded 1,526 Covid cases since mid-June, and around 19,000 people have been put in mandatory quarantine.
Schools and entertainment venues, including bars and cinemas, had already been closed under earlier guidelines.
Over the weekend, Macau's Government Information Bureau said all businesses would be required to suspend their operations unless they were "deemed essential to the community and to the day-to-day lives of the members of the public".
And, yes, that means casinos – the erstwhile lifeblood of the former Portuguese colony.
Taiwan Vice President in Japan for Abe Funeral
Taiwan Vice President Lai Ching-de (賴清德). Photo: Taiwan Presidential Office
Vice President William Lai (Ching-te) arrived in Tokyo on Monday to pay his respects to the Abe family ahead of the former prime minister’s funeral, making Lai, according to most media reports, Taiwan’s most senior official to visit Japan in five decades
Most of those media reports were actually wrong. The Republic of China cut off diplomatic relations with Japan in 1972, but recently elected Lee Teng-hui, transited via Japanese soil in 1985, as Sense Hofstede point out in a Tweet thread.
Not quite on the same level as visiting for the funeral of a state dignitary, but Lee was another great friend of Japan, and famously spoke Japanese more fluently than Mandarin.
It Was Never Part of China: US Report
The Ming claims at least appear tenuous based on this map of the Ming, Yongle Emperor, in the year 1415, as conceived by Albert Herrmann, Historical and Commercial Atlas of China, Harvard University Press. 1935.
Yes, OK, we know what you’re thinking, but Lt Gen P R Shankar (R) opining for the Indian Financial Express writes:
Pre -1949 official historical records completely discredit the Chinese claim to Tibet from ancient times as per a project report whose findings were presented on 23 June 22 at the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China. The report concludes that Tibet was never a part of China before the People’s Republic of China (PRC) invaded it in 1950. Maps from the Ming and Qing dynasties were presented to prove that Tibet was never part of a Chinese empire. The PRC’s claims to unify China by annexing Tibet are baseless. Its version of ‘Chinese history’ is very different from the actual ‘Chinese history’.
For the record, despite hosting Tibet’s government in exile in Dharamsala, India’s current position on Tibet dates back to 2003, when – in a joint declaration with China – India recognized that “the Tibet Autonomous Region is part of the territory of the People's Republic of China.”
China Stages Anti-Dalai Lama Birthday Bash
‘Party members don’t believe in religious promises’ proclaims a sign with handprints. Photo: WeChat.
It was a heady week for Chinese nationalists. First they got to stage Anti-Dalai Lama, anti-Buddhist and anti-religious campaigns for the Dalai Lama’s 87th birthday, and then they got to celebrate the death of former Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo. Bitter Winter, a dissident website, noted that in Lhasa:
In many schools, students were compelled to attend mandatory classes on ‘Explaining and Criticizing the Reactionary Nature of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.’ Students who called sick or tried otherwise not to attend and their families were summoned to police stations, and received various punishments.
In Lhasa and other cities, exhibitions on the same anti-Dalai-Lama themes were organized. They hailed the progress of Tibet Autonomous Region under China, and falsely depicted the past Dalai Lama administration as one keeping the population in a condition of slavery.
What’s on Weibo rustled up some some nasty commentary on Chinese social media following Abe Shinzo’s death, with some calling Abe’s shooter “a hero” and others referring to “a historic day.”
Cicada Season – An Ode to Summer in Shanghai
No, it’s not Shanghai cicada, but it is a cicada. Photo Wiki Commons.
Historic Shanghai’s lyric ode to the cicada deserves a wide readership, which posting it here will not achieve, but it’s really worth a look.
We owe our earliest knowledge of the Shanghai cicada to one Arthur de Carle Sowerby, who was …
…The pre-eminent expert on Shanghai’s natural world … an explorer, naturalist, publisher of the “China Journal”, and author of the “Nature Notes” column for the North China Daily News. He explored his own verdant Shanghai backyard (on Lucerne Road/Lixi Lu) with the same enthusiasm that he brought to his expeditions in Manchuria, Mongolia, Sha’anxi and Gansu. And in his backyard, he found the Shanghai cicada.
On July 27, 1938, he wrote in “Nature Notes:”
For a few hectic weeks, the cicadas appear to enjoy life to the full, the males spending their time singing noisily, it would seem for the delectation of the females, and both males and females feeding copiously on the sap of the trees. Mating takes place and the eggs are laid. Then as summer wanes, the cicadas begin to die off, and by the end of autumn, all have passed away. But they have left behind them a generation of cicadas deep in the soil, who will emerge after a period of years to enjoy life above ground, before they in turn pass into oblivion.
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