Smile, it's Bali
But holidays are over in no time and then it's business as usual, as we all know
Photo: Office of the President of the United States; Public Domain.
US President Joe Biden and Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping smiled for the cameras yesterday (Monday) at the G20 summit, Bali, Indonesia.
The good news is they’re talking – a possibly temporary ease on, say, “hostage diplomacy” – the bad news, they’re talking past and over each other.
In short, this is not about what’s said; we need to watch what the US and China do, as we have done so far and should continue to do after this summit.
Even if the talks impose some restraining ropes on building conflict inertia, it will be a temporary slowdown of what is likely an inevitable series of collisions.
So, to the Wall Street Journal, which sensibly wonders whether Xi can put global concerns at ease.
Mr. Xi is emerging from his Covid cocoon to a world scrambled by the pandemic and puzzled by China’s adherence to lockdown policies that have reverberated through the global economy. The West was also unsettled by the size and scope of his military response to U.S. lawmaker Nancy Pelosi‘s visit to Taiwan. Meanwhile, Western governments are dismayed at Mr. Xi’s sustained partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin and failure to exert pressure to end Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine.
According to Beijing’s readout, Xi told Biden:
China has never sought to change the existing international order, does not interfere in the internal affairs of the United States, and has no intention of challenging or replacing the United States.
Well, that’s beyond highly debatable – in fact it’s irony on a grand scale, bordering on comedy, and it’s difficult to imagine how Xi said it with a straight face.
The Financial Times makes a good point, calling the meeting “Xi’s coming out party,” adding that “Putin’s last-minute decision to skip the G20 will make Xi’s mission easier by reducing much of the drama that had been anticipated at ‘the first global summit of the second cold war.’”
In fact, it’s all going so swimmingly well that the “second cold war” has been called off, according to some of the excitable analysis out there.
Putin’s absence took some of the tension out of what would have been an awkward Bali summit – and still no doubt is – but, really, China’s only in-synch with the West take on the Ukraine invasion is that resorting to nukes would be bad.
Nothing – and this should come as no surprise – has been resolved on the “Taiwan issue.” Both parties accuse the other of changing the status quo. Both Biden and Xi refer to Taiwan as a “red line” – for the CCP that means US efforts to support Taiwan; for the US, it means Chinese efforts to take Taiwan.
As for the ideological milieu, here’s Xi:
This so-called “democracy in opposition to autocracy” doesn’t define the contemporary world; it’s not even the trend of the times.
Let’s see if China stops pressuring Taiwan’s defenses on a daily basis and poking for cyber weak spots while attempting to bully the world into falling into line on non-recognition of all Taiwanese claims to self-governance and representation.
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Clashes in southern China amid testing changes
Even amid what some in Western media have been calling a loosening up of Covid restrictions, Bloomberg reports “rare protests” (actually, there are protests going on all the time in China; we just don’t get to hear about them often) against stringent Covid controls.
In videos circulating on social media, hundreds of people can be seen marching in the streets and pushing over police barriers in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, which has been in lockdown since late last month. The demonstrations took place in several “urban villages,” mainly poorer neighborhoods where migrant workers live, Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.
Meanwhile, in Beijing – and no doubt China-wide – long queues are trying the patience of locals as testing centers are moved closer to residential compounds, and often farther from places of work in accordance with the latest regulations on Covid management.
Gauging the overall situation at the time of writing was obviously impossible, but Bloomberg was separately reporting that cases continue to jump in major cities as local media emphasized no shift from zero Covid policies:
The growing outbreaks coincide with a sweeping overhaul of China’s Covid framework, including shorter quarantine and ending flight bans, sparking speculation that a major shift in authorities’ pandemic response was underway. But officials moved swiftly to quash that optimism, and state media publication the People’s Daily said in an editorial Tuesday [today] that the country is sticking to Covid Zero.
Meanwhile, that property crisis
Make yourself at home in Chongqing. Photo: Chawy; Unsplash.
Amid general excitement that change is afoot in China, the Wall Street Journal reports that that the country’s leadership “is signaling a reversal” of the real-estate crackdown, which is undoubtedly as much or almost as much a source of frustration for ordinary Chinese as Covid lockdowns have been.
China’s central bank and top banking regulator issued a wide-ranging series of measures aimed at bolstering housing demand and supply, according to a notice circulated on Friday to the country’s financial institutions and officials involved in policy-making. The authenticity of the document was confirmed by people close to the central bank.
But some analysts think that however China intervenes now in the property sector now is doomed to be too little too late.
In a Twitter thread, economist Michael Pettis puts it:
While China's over-reliance on the property sector was once justified by China's enormous underinvestment in property, in the past 10-15 years it has become among the two biggest sources in the Chinese economy of non-productive investment and surging debt.
Two things are, consequently, obvious. First, the property sector must be cut back sharply, and property prices must fall, in order to rein in debt and non-productive investment and to help rebalance China's highly distorted economy.
Beijing has no choice but to rein in the overextended property sector, but it cannot meaningfully do so without forcing far more economic pain than the leadership is politically willing to accept.
Pettis argues that as a result we’re likely to see a very long adjustment, as we did in Japan in the 1990s, as “Beijing veers sharply back and forth between first imposing and then walking back policies aimed at addressing its imbalances.”
The Greater Sinosphere
Albanese meets Xi
The Australian ABC reports on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s G20 meeting with Xi Jinping with some candor, noting “Australia and China are, once again, on speaking terms.
But that won't extinguish the profound differences between the two governments, or magically usher in a new era of amity and cooperation.
The Sydney Morning Herald characteristically described it as “a major diplomatic achievement for Albanese,” who urged China to remove sanctions on A$20 billion (US$13.4 billion) worth of Australian goods.
Albanese, for his part, said that Australia would not “resile” – it means back off – from its interests and values, which basically means that the two parties may be talking, but a meaningful deal is far from reach.
As the ABC puts it:
The suspicion held across the political class is that nothing Australia can do or say will fundamentally alter China's trajectory, particularly as Beijing embraces an increasingly aggressive nationalistic fervour under Xi, and as strategic competition between China and the US intensifies.
Mind the anthem
Instead of China's anthem, "March of the Volunteers” – born of the struggle to liberate the country from Japanese occupation (mostly take on by the KMT, or Nationalists) and begins with the rallying cry "Arise! Ye who refuse to be slaves," Hong Kong Rugby Seven players got to hear another hopeful song of emancipation, as AFP (via France24) and countless other news outlets reported.
Hong Kong's government reacted with fury on Monday after a popular democracy protest song was played instead of the Chinese national anthem for the city's team at a rugby sevens tournament in South Korea.
… before Hong Kong took on South Korea in the final of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in Incheon on Sunday, "Glory to Hong Kong" was played instead.
Hong Kong nationalist politicians (Beijing reps) were very upset that the the players didn’t erupt in spontaneous revolt.
Colonial flag waver to be jailed
Protesters waving the Hong Kong colonial flag in front of China liaison office in Hong Kong (2012). Photo: VOA; public domain.
This is a last-week story to ChinaDiction’s chagrin, but so many Hong Kongers are falling afoul of the former city state’s new Beijing-imposed laws it’s difficult to keep up.
Anyway, in a mess up much like the one above involving the Rugby Sevens – except so far the players are not facing jail – a colonial flag waver is facing jail in Hong Kong, reports CNN.
Paula Leung, a 42-year-old online journalist, admitted the charge and was given a three-month jail sentence on Thursday, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Leung, who said in mitigation that she had autism and learning difficulties, had waved the flag in a shopping mall where a big screen was showing the medal ceremony following Edgar Cheung’s victory in the foil at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021.
Crypto exchange AAX suspends trading
Claiming that the collapse of crypto exchange had put immense pressure on the sector, Hong Kong exchange AAX suspended withdrawals, citing a glitch in a system upgrade, reports Bloomberg
AAX is a relatively small crypto exchange: data from CoinGecko showed that trading volumes over the last month peaked at around $2 billion. Over the last 24 hours, that number had dwindled to around $180,000. By contrast, Coinbase volumes were more than $1.5 billion in the same 24-hour period.
It’s difficult to imagine that anyone reading this has not at least caught a whiff of the FTX fiasco – an epic event, not just for crypto but for finance in general, and bound for Netflix glory – but Matt Levine’s Bloomberg Opinion piece on how the exchange fell apart is grimly comic stuff.
Spoiler alert: FTX was backed by “magic beans” of its own creation.
Local elections are about far more than Taipei, but Taipei still counts
The DPP’s putting it all behind former virus czar Chen Shih-chung in Taipei, but a less than inspiring performance so far is giving the edge to his competitors. Photo: CNA.
Taiwan-based political scientist Lev Nachman notes in a Twitter thread that “If the DPP wins [in Taipei], it'll be huge.”
There’s no disputing that. The Democratic Progressive Party has not had a Taipei mayor since Chen Shui-bian – who went on to two terms as president – in 1998.
The problem is that the DPP’s candidate Chen Shih-chung (Chén Shízhōng, 陳時中) just seems to lack the charisma that a DPP candidate needs to sweep Taipei, or the “Heavenly Dragon Kingdom,” (Tiānlóng Guó, 天龍國) as some residents of the modern, traditionally “blue” city call it.
Chen, unfortunately, comes across as genial, but somewhat fusty – and add to that the Taiwan has been watching him on TV every day for two years, holding forth at 2pm on fortress Taiwan’s commendable and very successful efforts to keep Covid at bay.
As Chinese-language Upmedia puts it, without quite saying as much, Chen is rather like an uncle from down the road – inoffensive, but Taipei’s younger voters are not going for it, providing an opening for either Chiang Wan-an (Jiǎng Wàn'ān, 蔣萬安) of the KMT or Independent Huang Shan-shan (Huáng Shānshān, 黃珊珊), both of whom are running spirited campaigns and are at this point, less than two weeks from election day, strong contenders.
Nachman sums it up by saying that other races “have big implications too, (looking at you Taoyuan and Hsinchu) but Taipei’s race will have the biggest potential impact on Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election.”
It’s expected that President Tsai Ing-wen will step down as DPP chairperson if the DPP suffers nationwide losses in the local elections as many expect. The fight to succeed her is likely to be fierce if that happens.
Police crack down on violent extortionists
The National Police Agency says it has arrested more than 1,200 people in a countrywide crackdown on crime after a spate of highly embarrassing reports of Taiwanese being lured into interviews for jobs and then extorted – sometimes tortured and murdered – reports the Taipei Times.
In the past week through Sunday, the nationwide campaign targeting criminals engaged in kidnapping and extortion netted 1,254 arrests, NPA Directorate-General Huang Ming-chao (黃明昭) said.
The suspects were involved in 683 cases of fraud, money scams, loan-related violence and other criminal activities, with about NT$700 million (US$22.5 million) in cash and property assets frozen, he said.
Hsueh Hsien-te (薛先得), captain of the Taipei Police Department’s criminal investigation division, said his unit began an investigation after a Taipei resident reported responding to an online advertisement promising high pay, only to be threatened, blindfolded, confined and beaten when he showed up for an interview.
Such cases have become widespread recently, with candidates for what are advertised as modestly paid jobs by international standards – but high in Taiwan, where wages are famously low – disappearing, being murdered and tortured in extortion attempts.
Those lockdowns, they make you feel safer with time
If you’ve ever wondered whether the Chinese can wryly comment on that as some of us might elsewhere in the world, well, yes, they can …
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