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Tightrope artist ChinaDiction #80
Chinese state councillor Wang Yi – China's top diplomat – gave the impression of trying to placate western Europe on Ukraine without betraying Russia, while in no mood to give an inch to the US
Wang Yi in a file photo from 2017. Photo: WikiCommons.
After much media speculation that they would do so, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi touched base on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
According to the US Department of State readout, Blinken firmly condemned the high-altitude PRC balloon over US sovereign territory, adding it must never happen again and in a severe finger-wag at Beijing:
On Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, the Secretary warned about the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia or assistance with systemic sanctions evasion. The Secretary condemned today’s ICBM test by the DPRK [North Korea] as the latest destabilizing act carried out by Pyongyang, and emphasized the need for responsible powers to respond to such significant international challenges. The Secretary reaffirmed there had been no change to the longstanding U.S. one China policy, and he underscored the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Wang bit back, with France24 reporting that he accused President Joe Biden’s administration of having a “misguided” perception of Beijing.
He accused the United States of trying to "smear" the Asian giant while it itself was implementing policies that ran counter to its paradigms such as free trade.
‘There are many balloons from many countries in the sky. Do you want to down each and every one of them?’ Wang asked.
‘We urge the United States not to do such preposterous things simply to divert attention from its own domestic problems.’
In other words, US-China relations did not get a reboot in Germany over the weekend.
Blinken, according to The BBC, warned that China is considering arming Russia in its war with Ukraine.
The Guardian with more:
Blinken told US networks that the US had information China was considering whether to give Russia assistance, possibly including guns and weapons, for the Ukraine war.
‘The concern that we have now is, based on information we have, that they’re considering providing lethal support,’ Blinken told CBS’s Face the Nation shortly after he met with Wang. “And we’ve made very clear to them that that could cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship.’
Wang said that China is planning naval exercises with South Africa and Durban, according to Bloomberg (paywall):
The drills will be held Feb. 20-27 off Durban and Richards Bay, South Africa, the Defense Ministry in Beijing said in a statement on Sunday, adding China would send a destroyer, a frigate and a supply vessel.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Xi Jinping is planning a “peace speech” on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Realistically speaking, Xi is not going offer a palatable peace for anyone other than Russia, and China, as the Guardian notes.
The US warnings about China’s intentions come in the context of a Chinese proposal to reveal a peace plan for Ukraine in a speech by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, coinciding with the 24 February anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Wang revealed the intention to launch the plan in his speech to the security conference on Saturday, and has been briefing leaders from France, Germany and Italy on China’s intentions, possibly in a bid to drive a wedge between EU states and the US.
No doubt hope abides in some western European quarters that Beijing could bring diplomatic pressure to bear on Vladimir Putin and end the conflict on Nato’s doorstep, but skepticism rules more generally, given China’s actions and words over the past year:
Expressing the west’s scepticism, the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said: ‘China has not been able to condemn the invasion,” adding the plan “is quite vague’. Peace was only possible if Russia respected Ukraine’s sovereignty, he said.
There’s no room for agreement here on anything, even if some European politicians in France, German and Italy, for example, see grounds for negotiation.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said NATO should try to agree on a security guarantee for Ukraine by July. In a Bloomberg Television interview, he also called on China to ‘play a responsible role.’
[US] Vice President Kamala Harris told the Munich Security Conference that the US has concluded Russia committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine.
Slightly off topic, in a quick update on one of the related events that have sparked the increased frostiness between the US and China, one of the UFOs shot down by the US may have belonged to the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade, according to The Guardian, which reports:
If that is what happened, it would mean the US military expended a missile costing $439,000 … to fell an innocuous hobby balloon worth about $12.
ChinaDiction hastens to add that the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade has no reported PLA associations, but it may be remembered by future historians as playing a small part in the build up to WWIII.
China hits back at US with sanctions on arms sales to Taiwan
Lockheed YFA12A. Photo: Clemens Vasters, Germany: WikiCommons.
Bloomberg reports on yet another stressor in the increasingly troubled US-China relationship – trade retaliations for US sales of defensive arms to Taiwan.
It’s a symbolic move on China’s part, given that the companies in question don’t actually provide China with weapons, but it’s another sign of China’s willingness to respond in kind to US moves to tighten the noose on the PRC.
Lockheed Martin Corp. and a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies Corp. were added to a list of ‘unreliable entities’ for selling weapons to Taiwan, China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement Thursday.
As with previous sanctions announced against the firms and other US defense contractors, these measures aren’t expected to disrupt operations, analysts said. The sanctions and fines targeted Raytheon’s missile and defense subsidiary, ‘which sells nothing into China,’ while avoiding commercial divisions that export jet engines, navigation equipment and other components to the nation, noted George Ferguson of Bloomberg Intelligence.
Migrant workers migrate home
A migrant worker in Beijing. Photo: Matt Ming; WikiCommons.
For years headlines have announced an increasing deficit of the migrant Chinese workers on whose sweat and blood the modern Chinese miracle was built.
This year, labor recruiters say, is worse than ever. This time is, basically, different and it may be a major impediment to China restarting its economy in the aftermath of a take-no (viral) -prisoners zero-Covid campaign that has put rural Chinese off returning to the cities for work.
One recruiter for a garment factory in Guangzhou told Bloomberg that only 10 workers returned from the Lunar New Year holidays.
Their reluctance [to return], she says, is understandable.
‘Imagine that you are far away from home in a megacity where your salary for your entire life can’t afford a house, you live in a tiny old room with a shared toilet with many others and work 12 hours a day. The only goal is to make and save as much money as possible,’ Tang said in an interview in early February. ‘But then the lockdown came. You don’t know how long you’ll have no pay at all.’
The report admits there’s “no data on how many of the 296 million migrant workers that power China’s export economy” are staying home, but anecdotally managers are struggling to fill shop-floors.
‘More migrant workers became more determined to stay in their hometowns after experiencing the uncertainties amid the Covid lockdown,’ said Bruce Pang, chief economist for Greater China at Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. ‘Improving infrastructure and the governments’ supportive policies in the rural areas managed to convince more workers to seek for jobs locally.’
For anyone who has visited rural China in recent years, it’s patently obvious that they are reaping dividends from China’s vastly improved infrastructure and from China’s booming e-commerce shopping culture.
It’s likely that Xi JInping’s signature say-no-to-Covid campaign simply hastened a hollowing out of Chinese factories’ easy access to exploitable, low-cost workers.
Image: Alexey Solodovnikov (Idea, Producer, CG, Editor), Valeria Arkhipova (Scientific Сonsultant) via WikiCommons.
First China defeated Covid-19 by ensuring no one got it; then China defeated the virus by letting everyone get it.
You might cynically call it win-win with Chinese characteristics. We won’t.
Xinhua triumphantly reported on Friday that:
The Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee said at a meeting on Thursday that China has achieved a major and decisive victory in its COVID-19 prevention and control since November 2022.
Breathlessly, the report continues:
China has created a miracle in human history, in which a highly populous nation has successfully pulled through a pandemic, the meeting announced.
The statement did not say how many had died from COVID, and comes weeks before China holds its annual parliamentary session and as policymakers look to revive an economy battered by three years of COVID restrictions.
Officially, Covid-19 is now at a “low level” per the same report.
We wouldn’t stoop so low as to call it “win-win with Chinese characteristics,” but we are tempted to call this a “miracle with CPC characteristics,” even though, in fairness to the CPC, the party is simply taking a page from the West’s media playbook.
If you announce it’s over and ignore the ongoing “drama” of drawn-out convalescences (AKA long covid), unexpected systemic responses to a previously unknown pathogen (sudden cardiac arrest, cognitive decline) and excess mortality rates …
… You really can appear to make Covid-19 go away – even proclaim victory over it. It’s not unique to Chinese politics and its state media.
The Greater Sinosphere
Less than two weeks after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Beijing, The Cambodia China Times (Chinese) reports that Chinese Ambassador Wang Wentian (pictured in the tweet above) proclaimed the trip a complete success and said that Hun Sen and CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping had reached “a high degree of consensus on issues such as building a China-Cambodia community with a shared future in the new era.”
Wang said that the two leaders also reached a consensus on expanding digital RMB payments in Cambodia, which will greatly facilitate Chinese tourists.
The background to that feel-good news is that Cambodia’s Central Bank has applied (or is “looking into applying” according to some reports) to join China’s Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS), which would facilitate RMB cross-border trade.
According to Customs (GDCE), mainland China once again emerged as Cambodia’s largest merchandise trading partner last year, with a volume of [US]$11.686 billion, marking a 4.39 per cent increase over 2021. Chinese exports to the Kingdom accounted for a staggering 89.38 per cent share of this, up 2.87 percentage points on a yearly basis.
Hong Kong Watch reports that, among other things, in the second week of the Trial of 47, people were being paid to wait overnight “outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building so that they would be the first to enter the courtroom once it opened …
This is evidence that the pro-establishment camp in Hong Kong is using Beijing’s tactics to prevent people from accessing and reporting on a trial, as is often done for trials of human rights defenders in the Mainland.
In the same report, Hong Kong Watch also claims that defendants who previously pleaded guilty – activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, ex-lawmakers Eddie Chu and Andrew Wan, ex-unionist Carol Ng, former district councilors Tiffany Yuen, Fergus Leung and Roy Tam and founder of now-defunct online media DB Channel Frankie Fung – were placed in other courtrooms from other defendants.
At the UN’s review of China (including Hong Kong)’s compliance with the International Covenant on Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights in Geneva … [last] week, UN experts raised multiple concerns regarding Hong Kong’s National Security Law.
Specifically, they highlighted that “national security” was unclear and raised concerns that this, and the National Security Law itself, could be applied ‘arbitrarily’.
Freedom of travel resumes between HK and China
A flurry of US-Taiwan interaction in the week ahead, in what may be a coincidence, but is more likely a sign that the US seriously regards China as a regional menace and a bumpy ride lays ahead.
US deputy defense chief in Taiwan
Michael Chase, the top US defense official on China, was in Taiwan over the weekend, according to reports. Photo: US Department of Defense; WikiCommons.
On Friday, four sources confirmed to The Financial Times (paywall) that Michael Chase, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, was in Taiwan.
The Taipei Times reported that just hours before Chase’s arrival Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (Qiū Guózhèng, 邱國正) claimed to be “not very certain” about the plan.
Asked on the sidelines of a legislative session in the morning about Chase’s plan, Chiu said that “those who are friendly to us” are welcome to visit Taiwan.
Increasing numbers of global movers and shakers – to China’s no doubt intense frustration – are doing so.
US congressional team in Taiwan
According to Focus Taiwan a bipartisan American congressional delegation arrived in Taiwan yesterday for a five-day visit. They will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen (Cài Yīngwén, 蔡英文) and other senior government officials, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).
The delegation comprises Democrats Ro Khanna of California, Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts, and Jonathan Jackson of Illinois, and Republican Tony Gonzales of Texas, MOFA said in a press release.
Upon arrival at Taoyuan International Airport, the four members of Congress were welcomed by Douglas Hsu (Xú Yòudiǎn, 徐佑典), head of MOFA's North American Affairs Department, according to the press statement.
But not so secret that the Financial Times (paywall) wasn’t able to alert us that a delegation of Taiwan officials led by foreign minister Joseph Wu (Wú Zhāoxiè, 吳釗燮); and national security adviser Wellington Koo (Gù Lìxióng, 顧立雄) were arriving in Washington over the weekend ahead of “diplomatic dialogue” that is “intended to remain private to avoid sparking an angry reaction from China.”
Frankly, the whole secrecy thing will probably provoke more Chinese ire than if they’d simply carried out the diplomatic dialogue on CNN, but secrecy is how this one is being played, probably because the US wants to keep China guessing.
Five people familiar with the secret talks — known as the “special channel” — said Wu and Koo would lead the delegation. After arriving at the weekend, the Taiwanese team will next week meet Jon Finer, the US deputy national security adviser. One person said Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state, would also take part in the meetings.
Year of the Water Hare, 2150
Courtesy of the Universal Compassion Forum, ChinaDiction is able to wish everyone. བོད་ཀྱི་ལོ་གསར། “Tashi Delek Losar 2150, Tibetan New Year 2023” – for Tuesday, tomorrow, which will mark the first day of the first Tibetan month of the Tibetan year.
Literary entomologist China geeks rejoice
A nod to prolific China writer Paul French (@chinarhyming) for this nugget – and it’s about time.
Insects in Chinese literature have been neglected for far too long and many of us have bemoaned the lack of a substantive tome on the topic for decades.
What next? Well, China is a big place, with a long history and a multitude of as-yet untold tales with a multitude of neglected creatures – bats, for example, but we’ll leave them to the WHO.
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