Tweak it good ... Move forward, look ahead ... (apologies to Devo)
A lonely dabai goes about the job of dynamic cleansing. Photo: Jida Li; Unsplash.
Sub-variants of Covid are snapping at China’s heels, possibly presenting the greatest threat the virus has so far, given the wide geographical range of scattered outbreaks, several of them in first-tier cities..
But good news … China’s leadership is changing its language on Covid, reports Bloomberg.
Some background: on Thursday Communist Party bigwigs held their first publicized gathering on handling Covid-19 since early May amid stock-churning speculation that policy change is afoot in China.
Here’s the Xinhua report in English, but basically you can boil it down to the following: maintained “strategic resolve” and carrying out “control work in a science-based and targeted manner,” however that’s interpreted on the ground in China.
As for specific changes, new rules make it easier for airlines to fly into China, reports CNN, while:
Inbound international passengers will also see their pre-departure test requirement reduced from two to one, and their mandatory centralized quarantine upon arrival cut from seven days to five days, followed by another three days of home isolation.
At the time writing, all eyes are on Guangzhou, the city of close on 14 million, around 120 km northwest of Hong Kong, where numbers continue to mount (3,180 local cases on Friday).
Clearly, as the latest high-level meeting reveals, ideally zero-Covid “dynamic cleansing” becomes less of a blunt weapon – more targeted (like 5 million people locked down rather than 25 million) – but that doesn’t mean fun and games in the snow in the winter ahead.
As a “disease expert” told Reuters, China won’t relax its zero-Covid policy measures, it will keep improving them.
But what does improving mean? In theory, it would seem to be about preventing endemicity while more effectively allowing – if possible – life and business to go on.
Fellow Substacker, Pekingnology lays it all out, the new 20 rules, and here, almost at random is the lead graph to Entry 19:
Implement prevention and control measures at enterprises and industrial parks. All local joint prevention and control (of COVID) mechanisms in each place set up task forces to find out the number of enterprises (including private enterprises) and industrial parks in their respective jurisdictions. Develop COVID prevention and control plans in line with "one policy for one enterprise" and “one policy for one industrial park”
That’s one paragraph out of 43 (I counted them) detailed measures. The Chinese-language source material is here.
China is not relaxing its zero Covid policy, and it says so clearly:
We must not cause misinterpretations such as a relaxation of prevention and control or even 放开 “opening up” or 躺平 "lying flat."
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US President Joe Biden and Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping will meet tomorrow (Monday) at the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
[US] Administration officials have said the meeting in Bali, if it occurs [it will], wouldn’t constitute a full-blown summit, in which one side hosts the other. The two governments haven’t held such a summit since the first year of the Trump administration.
Reuters reports that the two superpowers have been drawing their “red lines” ahead of the meeting:
The United States should work together with China to avoid misunderstandings and misjudgments, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday, when asked about reports of the meeting.
For his part, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he was not willing to make any fundamental concessions when he meets with counterpart Xi Jinping.
The Taiwan press been reporting that Biden has made it clear that the “Taiwan doctrine” has not changed, defending continued arms sales to Taiwan to help the island defend itself.
Biden has made no comment on defending Taiwan, but according to remarks by his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan it is possible that Biden may reiterate his three “gaffes” on defending Taiwan to Xi in person – see the Taiwan entry below.
China targets female ‘turncoats’
The Strategist, published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), notes that China has been targeting female critics of its regime with “graphic online depictions of sexual assault, homophobia and racist imagery … and life-threatening intimidation (including calling for targets to kill themselves).”
Such imagery, and associated threats, characterise ongoing coordinated information operations the CCP is running online against women of Asian descent living in democracies around the world, including in Australia, the UK and the US.
The Strategist further points out, in the aftermath of Elon Musk’s messy acquisition of Twitter:
Policymakers and regulators around the world will watch closely to see if Musk’s known support for freedom of speech results in an open slather on the vulnerable, including reductions in transparency and data sharing. Recent news that Twitter has slashed its workforce, including teams responsible for dealing with misinformation and hateful conduct, will be setting off alarm bells for officials.
Senior CCP insider and outcast critic passes away
Bao Tong, via his son Bao Pu on Twitter.
Accolades appeared last week for Bao Tong, a senior Communist Party official who died on Wednesday, aged 90, and who was purged after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and later dared to speak up against Xi Jinping as the latter asserted power.
The Wall Street Journal reports.
A top aide to reformist leaders in the 1980s, Mr. Bao helped chart China’s efforts to dismantle its command economy and liberalize its political system in the immediate post-Mao Zedong years, spearheading paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s efforts to reorient the party from revolution to modernization.
Mr. Bao was a protégé and political secretary of Zhao Ziyang, the former general secretary who was purged in 1989 for his sympathies with the Tiananmen Square demonstrators. Both men became known for steering political overhauls that were meant to rebuild and professionalize the government bureaucracy that was devastated during Mao’s 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
Mr. Bao remained a prominent figure within liberal party circles in the decades since his political fall from grace. Despite state surveillance and restrictions on his movements, he and other purged officials became vocal advocates for political overhauls that would loosen some of China’s authoritarian structures and tolerate more-diverse voices in policy-making.
Bao should be remembered as one of China’s rare politicians with a conscience. He was arrested in May 1989, shortly before the military intervened against students and workers and ordinary citizens in Beijing, expelled from the party and sentenced to seven years in 1992, and continued to be a closely monitored thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party until his death.
Little more than a month before his death, he was reportedly ever the critic he had been, opposing “China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid and close ties with Russia.”
The WeChat confessions
‘I won’t do it again – whatever it was – I promise; just let me back in and be able to function in Chinese society again.’ Not what the Chinese says, but what it means. Handwritten apology: WeChat.
Mea culpa, in a moment of unthinking negligence, I said what I thought, or captured a moment of video that unravelled the carefully constructed CCP narrative that hand-holds the average Chinese citizen from birth to death.
Even worse, I did it on WeChat.
As Rest of the World reports, you don’t want to wander off the path of faith on China’s dominant chat service because it’s about far more than “chat.”
Citizens depend on their WeChat accounts to not only communicate with each other, but also to order food deliveries, hail taxis, and pay for groceries. During the Covid-19 pandemic, people have been using WeChat to enter public venues — government-assigned QR codes must be scanned before people are allowed in.
Losing one’s WeChat account means getting cut off from social networks, digital wallets, and basic social services. That devastating experience, however, has become increasingly common as the social media app regularly shuts users out for transgressions ranging from spamming to criticizing the government. In October, WeChat banned a large number of accounts after their owners shared images of a rare protest against President Xi Jinping in Beijing, leaving the users scrambling to get back in touch with their friends, family, and work contacts.
The handwritten notes, usually accompanied by mugshots, have come to be known as “cyber confessionals” in China.
There are some in the West – awed by China’s superpowers – who argue that our inability to come up with an all-encompassing everything app – Elon Musk, now owner of Twitter, has at least expressed such thoughts – is a sign we’re losing our edge.
But as Chinese are discovering, an app like WeChat brings far more than “convenience” – it demands fealty and can mete out real penalties to those that don’t play “nice”.
Climate change: we’ll help, but we won’t pay
On Wednesday, at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said that China supported “compensating poorer countries for losses and damage caused by climate change” – but not with money – Reuters reports.
Xie said China had no obligation to participate, but stressed his solidarity with those calling for more action from wealthy nations on the issue, and outlined the damage China had suffered from climate-linked weather extremes.
Right, so the world’s No 1 polluter and world’s second biggest economy – a powerhouse that makes the rest of us look like we’re mired in the 19th century – wants to leave economic compensation to “rich countries” and paints itself as a victim.
The gall of it never ceases to amaze.
The Greater Sinosphere
Minors subject to ‘marching training,’ re-education
Hong Kong protests 2019; some minors are now coming to adulthood in a ‘patriotic prison system.’ Photo: Airam Dato-on: Pexels.
Hundreds – some say more than 1,000 – minors who were arrested in the pro-democracy riots of 2019 have been subject to military style training and reeducation not dissimilar to employed on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Radio Free Asia reports
Security chief Chris Tang told lawmakers that 517 people under the age of 18 had been prosecuted in connection with the 2019 protests by that date, adding that youths judged to hold "extreme ideological views" had been sent for "re-education."
‘At present, all young persons in custody are required to receive Chinese-style marching training,’ Tang told the Legislative Council on Oct. 26.
"The Correctional Services Department emphasizes strict discipline training for young persons in custody, hoping to make them understand the importance of discipline and abiding by the law," he said.
US-based activist Alex Chow, who chairs the Hong Kong Democracy Council, compared the regime to patriotic education programs and "re-education" programs imposed on more than a million incarcerated Uyghurs in Xinjiang since 2017.
‘Previously, political prisoners didn't have to go through that kind of brainwashing,’ he said. ‘I didn't, when I was in prison in 2017.’
Barrister behind bars
Chao Hang-tung before her arrest. Photo: Iris Tong; WikiCommons.
Chow Hang-tung, a 37-year-old barrister – “Instantly recognizable with her fringe-cut and black-rimmed glasses” – is one of Hong Kong’s most prominent dissident voices, reports Reuters.
She is one of the few activists who still openly challenge the legitimacy of China’s Communist Party leaders, after Beijing launched a wide-ranging crackdown here in response to mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. Many activists, fearing long jail terms, have gone silent. Some have disavowed their involvement altogether in groups that once called for political change. Some have pleaded guilty to charges against them, hoping for lighter sentences. Others have fled abroad. And dozens of civil rights groups have shut down, fearing retribution by the Chinese authorities.
Chow has been detained since 8 September last year, mostly in the Tai Lam Centre for Women, a maximum security prison, on two national security charges, including inciting subversion, a new offense that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
A trial date has yet to be set. Chow says she’s not guilty.
China’s State Council Information Office and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office did not respond to questions from Reuters.
Sullivan promises briefing on Biden-Xi talks
Bloomberg reports that the US President Joe Biden’s top national security aide has advised that the US will brief Taiwanese officials on the president’s meeting with Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Bali tomorrow.
It’s sure to anger China.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “expressed confidence that Taipei would feel secure about its support from the US.”
That’s sure to anger China even more.
‘I’m confident that they will feel very secure and comfortable in the United States, his position when it comes to our support for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and our commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act, which does commit the United States to ensuring we’re providing the articles for Taiwan’s defense,’ National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Thursday.
Biden on Wednesday stopped short of committing to defending the island militarily, as he’s done several times in the past. When asked how Taiwan should interpret his comments, Sullivan said the president prefers not to preview what he tells foreign leaders before their meetings but instead ‘likes to actually go say it to them.’
Undoubtedly, it’s time to be firm with Xi and outline the costs of military adventurism across the Taiwan Strait, but it’s unlikely to deter Xi’s plans long term.
China knows it’s playing a high-stakes’ game and Xi probably thinks he can win it.
What’s past is present
The Garden of the Generalissimos, part of the Cihu Mausoleum of Chiang Kai-shek in Taoyuan County, Taiwan. Photo: Fred Hsu; WikiCommons.
The United Daily News (Chinese) reports that new veteran homes will no longer be named after Chiang Kai-shek (or his official name Chung-cheng –Zhōngzhèng, 中正), but statues of the former autocrat/dictator will not be removed.
Taiwan’s Legislature is in session and questions like this come up frequently, as politicians tussle over how to deal with an autocratic past that some Taiwanese despise and others feel some nostalgia and even loyalty for.
Over to the Global Taiwan Institute for some background:
Although many efforts have been made over the last few decades to correct the wrongs committed during Taiwan’s one-party era, the [Democratic Progressive Party] DPP has led the crusade with renewed vigor since President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) 2016 election. During that same year, the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice (促進轉型正義 條例) was passed with the intent to expand public access to political archives, restore historical truths, remove authoritarian symbols, settle issues of ill-gotten party assets, and redress judicial wrongs that occurred between 1945 and 1992. In 2018, the “Ill-Gotten Gains Act” (政黨及其附隨組織不當取得財產處理條例) was passed to begin the restoration of assets seized by the KMT during the martial law era.
Also in 2018, the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC, 促進轉型正義委員會) was established to oversee the removal of authoritarian symbols, declassification of critical documents, and the creation of a political trials database. By October 2020, the TJC had removed around 70 percent of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) statues in Taiwan and exonerated 5,874 people wrongfully convicted during the “White Terror” (白色恐怖) period.
It’s an issue of pressing importance for DPP politicians as part of their historical mission of remolding the country as a progressive, democratic nation that transcends the Chinese civil war that drove Chiang Kai-shek and some 2 million Chinese to the island. But too-much-too-soon changes run the risk of deepening fissures in Taiwan society.
As the New York Times put it recently in a piece on a “White Terror” museum that is attracting large numbers of visitors in Taipei:
Chou Wan-yao, a history professor at the National Taiwan University in Taipei, said that one challenge for Taiwan’s efforts to come to terms with the era of White Terror is that successive governments have continued to keep many documents from that period classified. The long-held concern is that throwing this history wide open could sow hard-to-heal divisions in Taiwan’s society.
‘The most important practice of transitional justice is to seek the truth,’ Professor Chou said. ‘If you know the guilt and names of participants, but you cover them up, it still won’t help much.’
In short, it’s likely to be many years – if not decades – before Taiwan eliminates all reminders of its autocratic past – more than 60 schools in Taipei alone are still thought to house Chiang Kai-shek statues, for example – and meanwhile Chiang’s vanquisher is breathing down Taiwan’s neck as it strives to be the next to shoo away all efforts to assert a self-determined future.
Chris Taylor in Bangkok with Michael Fahey in Taipei
Lowered voting age poll may fail due to lack of voters
When voters go to the polls in Taiwan later this month, they will vote on not only candidates for city and council positions, but also on a referendum to amend the Taiwanese constitution. The referendum would lower the voting age from 20 to 18.
The referendum is likely to obtain a majority of votes actually cast but will probably fail because not enough voters will cast votes. In Taiwan, voters receive separate ballots for candidates and referendums. To cast a ballot, voters must line up a second time. Many don’t bother. In addition, voters who don’t like the ruling DPP will probably abstain because the Tsai administration is pushing hard for the referendum to pass.
One reason that the Tsai administration is backing the referendum is because younger voters are thought to be more likely to vote for the DPP. But another perhaps more important reason is fidelity to one of the DPP’s most important governing documents – the 1999 Resolution on Taiwan’s Future.
The DPP’s purpose as a political party, which has been the first principle of its Constitution since 19991, is to establish “the Republic of Taiwan as a sovereign, independent, and autonomous nation” (jiànlì zhǔquán dúlìzìzhǔ de táiwān gònghéguó, 建立主權獨立自主的台灣共和國).
The means of achieving that objective were defined in the 1999 Resolution. First any change to Taiwan’s de facto sovereign status must be approved by the people of Taiwan. Second, the DPP intends “to “rectify the name of the country, create a new constitution, join the United Nations, pursue transitional justice, and forge a Taiwanese identity in order to normalize Taiwan as a sovereign state (emphasis added).”
The current attempt to amend the constitution should be seen as part of a larger effort to create a new constitution just as Tsai’s approach to founding a new nation is to change the existing Republic of China from within.
This particular attempt also has significance because while the ROC Constitution has been amended a number of times in recent decades, this will be the first amendment that must be passed by a referendum pursuant to the new rules for constitutional changes put in place back in 2005.
President Tsai will win even if the referendum fails because the main significance of the amendment for her is merely to show that she is trying to keep faith with the DPP program.
DPP Legislator Lin Ching-Yi ( Lín Jìngyí, 林靜儀) acknowledged on twitter last week “when are we going to be able…[to] change the country’s name if even this non-controversial amendment can’t pass?”
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Spaces to be allocated for silent banana consumption in Hong Kong
Concerns ran high last week over whether participants in this weekend’s Hysan Island Hike & Run event in Hong Kong would be able to consume bananas, but according to Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), the government has relented and runners were “allowed to silently consume bananas in certain race areas.”
The breakthrough news was received with gratitude by event organizers.
‘[W]e would like to thank the Hong Kong government for official banana confirmation today in making it clear that at this weekend’s Hysan Island Hike & Run bananas will be served at checkpoints…’ a Facebook post by organiser Action Asia Events said on Tuesday.
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