Two Sessions: 'What a Whole Lot of Jaw'
It's an annual gathering of the clan: If you listen you can hear the gurgle of China's collective mind at work—some of it may even make sense.
Read the tea leaves. Picture: Charlotte May, Pexel
There’s a war in Europe and that’s one reason that China’s annual boy’s club get-together of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)—it has the attention-grabbing name, the Two Sessions—hasn’t been dominating headlines. The other reason is that the sessions are really only of interest to the most-obsessed China tea-leaf readers.
Keep those tea-leafers on their toes.
The Two Sessions—not to be disrespectful—are, nevertheless, a rare window into the machinations of China’s politics—who will be the big hitters and what priorities might really be priorities in the year ahead? On this occasion, the turbulence that has engulfed the world is making the two-week “all the devils are here” annual event more frothy than usual.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a press conference in which he confirmed China’s support for Russia, and warned Washington against even thinking about a “Pacific NATO” and urging it to forget about reigniting its on-again, off-again semi-romantic dalliance with Taiwan.
China: We’re ready for anything, bring it on … You hearing us?
Elsewhere, the sessions have been dominated by talk of “stability,” CNN reports:
Chinese policymakers face mounting challenges to keep growth steady, as the country contends with a real estate crisis and Beijing tries to maintain its zero-tolerance approach to the coronavirus. The fallout from the Ukraine crisis could also slow growth by driving commodity prices higher—among other things.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang:
A comprehensive analysis of evolving dynamics at home and abroad indicates that this year, the risks and challenges for development rise significantly, and we must keep pushing to overcome them.
Call it “stability” if you like, but here at ChinaDiction we’re calling it “security” and, where necessary, toss in a douse of autarky. The Chinese anxiety complex encompasses the coronavirus, energy, food—and containing problems such as the real estate mess and unpredictable fallout from the Russia-Ukraine confrontation.
Even Xi Jinping has stuff to say, the South China Morning Post reports:
Addressing deputies from the coal-rich Inner Mongolia region on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress on Saturday, Xi said China’s green transition could not be achieved overnight and its coal-dominated energy structure was unlikely to change fundamentally in the short term.
We can’t be detached from reality … We can’t toss away what’s feeding us now while what will feed us next is still not in our pocket,” Xi was quoted as saying by People’s Daily.
The People’s Daily is state run—all Chinese media is. Xi is saying, yeah, climate goals etc, but we’re going to be digging up coal for years to come, so chill out Inner Mongolians.
According to English-language Chinese state media, Xi Jinping told national political advisors from the sectors of agriculture, welfare and social security
The supply of major agricultural products, the supply of grain in particular, must be secured as the top priority, and upgrading the comprehensive capacity for agricultural production must be placed in an even more prominent position. The agricultural production strategy based on farmland management and application of technology must be carried out to the letter. Continued efforts must be made to promote the high-quality development of social security, and a better social safety net must be further developed to secure the wellbeing of the people.
We should not slacken our efforts on food security. We should not assume that industrialization makes food a dispensable problem, nor should we rely on the international market to solve the problem. We need to be prepared for a rainy day. We need to keep food security as our priority, focus on China, ensure production capacity, import an appropriate amount of food, and support science and technology.
Back to the South China Morning Post, and on the same subject, Xi stressed that China should not rely on global markets for its food security. Xi’s message is domestic: the easy days are over, this is going to hurt, but we’ll triumph.
‘The world has entered a new era of turbulence and change which makes domestic reform and development a challenging task,’ state broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as telling the members of the CPPCC.
‘Vigilance in food security must not slacken, we must not think that food ceases being an issue after industrialization, and we cannot count on international supplies to solve the problem.’
Interpretation: Look, we might run out of food and energy, but we’re cooking up solutions for that right now. That’s what the Two Sessions are for: messaging that it’s all going to be OK.
Human Rights Chief to Visit East Turkestan
That’s according to the South China Morning Post and numerous other sources.
According to the South China Morning Post, Bachelet has sought access to Xinjiang (former East Turkestan, in the interests of recent historical correctness) since September 2018 due to reports that a million or more Uyghurs are in detention camps. Beijing has insisted in the past that any inspection be “friendly” and be held off until after the Winter Olympics, which have drawn to a frosty close.
The parameters for a visit will have to be such that the high commissioner has unfettered, meaningful access, including unsupervised interviews with civil society, the Post reported UN sources as saying.
It would be foolish, ChinaDiction predicts, for the UN Xinjiang expedition to expect any more access than the World Health Organization (WHO), which has conducted two investigations into the source of Covid-19 in Wuhan, gained. The WHO was stymied at every step—to the point it had to accept the “popsicle theory”—that it possibly arrived on frozen cod from a decadent, declining west— as being at least as plausible as a zoonotic spillover in Wuhan (the lab leak thesis was off the table, we think) – well, no, nothing happened in Wuhan; we got it under control, it’s the rest of the world that couldn’t manage the bug from nowhere.
The Post again—on the UN jaunt to Xinjiang—and not the global pandemic that has killed 6 million people so far, and made our lives barely sufferable: Just the genocide in East Turkestan, or Xinjiang.
‘China also made clear that it wants to define the trip as a friendly visit instead of an investigation with the presumption of guilt,’ sources said in January.
Bachelet said she ‘remained concerned about the treatment of individuals’ by local and national authorities, ‘some of whom have faced restrictions of the freedom of movement, including house arrest, or in some cases have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment based on cumulative challenges stemming from their activities.’
The best Bachelet can probably hope for is some ethnic dancing and a Potemkin-postcard of a village with a freshly painted mosque.
As Taiwanese marked the 75th anniversary of what it calls the 228 incident last week—a massacre of Taiwanese intellectuals and anti-Chinese Nationalists—they were, as The Economist put it:
stirred by the plight of Ukraine, as its people bravely resist a gargantuan invader. Bridges and skyscrapers across the island blaze in the blue-and-yellow of Ukraine’s flag.
Yes, for now. Ukraine's brave example and America's cool decision not to send troops have shocked Taiwanese into realizing that Taiwan's peaceful and prosperous (and democratic) Belle Époque could end in smoking ruins under a repressive regime like the one being installed in Hong Kong.
One conclusion shared by many is that Taiwan will have to be able to fight back. Hello Kitty/bubble tea diplomacy won’t cut it as a line of defense. Alternatively, vocal opposition warns that resistance is futile. The debate was encapsulated in a heated exchange (YouTube) in Taiwan's legislature last week between Premier Su Tseng-chang (left) and KMT legislator Fu Kun-chi. Su said that he would take to arms with a broom if necessary to defend Taiwan. Fu, who claims that the US will not send troops and advocates Finlandization, says that Su is just using his mouth to defend Taiwan. Su called him a “surrenderist” and “shameless.”
DPP, KMT scrapping aside, the real issue here is regardless of the bravado inspired by Ukrainian resistance to Russia, Taiwan is not exactly prepared for street-to-street combat, and a broom might be the only weapon at Su Tseng-chang’s disposal in the event of an invasion of the PLA.
So far the government has called up 15,000 reservists for two weeks of training but is not considering conscripting women due to capacity limitations. Civil society has sprung into action but has to train with air guns. Last year, Robert O'Brien, one of Trump's National Security Advisors, suggested that Taiwan stock its 2,000 police stations with the Stinger missiles that are now being shipped to Ukraine.
Taiwan's Minister of Defense dismissed the proposal, saying “Taiwan doesn't do whatever foreigners say.”
Clearly, there’s a deep division in Taiwan on how to deal with its “China problem”. Without turning this into an amateur PhD thesis, let’s just say that ChinaDiction thinks there’s a deep rift between Taiwanese civil society and the deeply conservative Republic of China military. Taiwanese may be increasingly willing to fight back against China, but Taiwan's military is determined to do things its way and it isn’t planning to hand out kalashnikovs on street corners in the hope of saving Taiwan’s unique culture.
Sometimes you have to read Paul Krugman and go, yeah, that’s basically the problem, you’ve nailed it.
Let him speak. His point is, The international banks are shutting Russia down to the extent that Russian can’t get paid for getting stuff to people who want it. That’s lockdown with no delivery guys to lean on—a coronavirus analogy. What next? Krugman speaking from the pulpit at the vaulted New York Times:
The Russian elite can live without Prada handbags, but Western pharmaceuticals are another matter. In any case, consumer goods are only about a third of Russia’s imports. The rest are capital goods, intermediate goods — that is, components used in the production of other goods — and raw materials. These are things Russia needs to keep its economy running, and their absence may cause important sectors to grind to a halt. There are already suggestions, for example, that the cutoff of spare parts and servicing may quickly cripple Russia’s domestic aviation, a big problem in such a huge country.
That’s him: Paul Krugman, just in case you were wondering. He’a positive guy, generally. He thinks if there are problems we can fix them.
Krugman’s got four points – they’re not encouraging – on whether China can hand-hold-walk Russia away from the ledge of self-destruction, and we’re going to run through them fast here in the newsletter, because Krugman’s being paid by the word and we’re not:
China cannot provide everything Russia needs—semiconductor chips? No.
China is, yes, believe it or not, integrated with the global economy—their banks may be inclined to self-sanction—call it fear of backlash from regulators and big players. Call it self-preservation, if you like.
It’s a long way from Beijing to Moscow—3,500 miles (we don’t even know what that is in kilometers here at ChinaDiction), and it’s all basically down to a handful of dodgy train lines for rail deliveries.
Look, Russia is just not the big deal it used to be. Its GDP is around the size of Guangdong Province’s in China. As Krugman puts it “a neofascist alliance … would be one in which Russia would be very much the junior partner, indeed very nearly a Chinese client state.”
Takeaway: Don’t go into a neofascist alliance as a junior partner or a client state … Also, bear in mind that the Krugman analysis could be somehow flawed even though he’s with the New York Times and has won a Nobel Prize in Scrabble.
ChinaDiction does not yet have a “baby policy,” except, please only give birth to them if you really, really have to and, please, China—or anyone—don’t get too scientifically experimental on them. So, we’re with the scientists who are calling on China to protect the world’s first gene-edited babies, as reported by The South China Post.
He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, is behind three gene-edited babies. He’s due to be released from prison this year.
He shocked the world when he announced in November 2018 at a conference in Hong Kong that he had created genetically modified twin girls, “Lulu” and “Nana”. A third gene-edited baby, “Amy”, was born later. The progress of the three girls is not known.
Chinese scientist. He’s probably insane, but please inform ChinaDiction if you know otherwise.
Can China’s UnionPay card system help bail out a very unpopular Russia at war and unable to buy things? The Wall Street Journal, which has reported on this very question, are playing coy and you can’t blame them because it’s really hard to say.
Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank by assets, Alfa Bank and Tinkoff Bank said Sunday they were working on the possibility of issuing cards powered by China’s UnionPay. Another Russian lender, Gazprombank, said customers can do cross-border transactions by getting cards that use UnionPay or Japan’s JCB system.
Visa and MasterCard are out of Russia already, but can reportedly still be used in-country. A workaround is almost bound to require China—Japan’s JCB were not responding to calls, according the Journal, but it’s highly unlikely Japan will leap to give Russia a helping hand anyway. That aside, China’s just not going to be all that useful when it comes to paying for things in anything except US dollars via the Swift system. Yes, it has its UnionPay card payment system … but … The Journal:
UnionPay is ubiquitous in China and expanded globally as Chinese traveled abroad, often to buy luxury goods. UnionPay cards are accepted in stores in 180 countries and regions, and online in over 200 countries and regions, according to the company’s website.
Besides its card network, China has been developing its own global payments system as an alternative to the widely used global network known as Swift. That system, though, remains dependent on Swift for most of its transactions.
No—even though people are saying the contrary on the “moronic inferno” of 7 billion voices in your pocket—China and Russia didn’t have this all sorted out before Putin went to war, and Russia looks like it’s going to get a quick and painful reminder of what living without money is like.
Is China getting Covid? Of course, we’re not sure. We probably wouldn’t know if half the population of Zhengzhou had Ebola. But reports of rising cases are emerging, according to Bloomberg and a multiple other sources.
The nation announced 526 cases on Monday, including 312 asymptomatic infections, with multiple clusters around the country. Shanghai, which has seldom seen a flareup during the pandemic, saw almost 50 infections. The port city of Qingdao had 163, centered around students at a high school, and the southern manufacturing hub of Dongguan reported 153 cases.
That may not sound like a whole lot of cases, depending on where you’ve spent the past two years, but in sparsely populated China, where, after a brief flareup in the central city of Wuhan the disease emigrated abroad, it’s a lot of cases.
As Bloomberg puts it:
The spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant to megacities and economic powerhouses–including the financial hub of Shanghai–means authorities face a complicated task to contain case numbers without imposing serious disruptions.
The rise in case numbers also comes as Beijing sends resources, including testing kits and health professionals to Hong Kong, which is reporting tens of thousands of cases each day in its worst ever virus outbreak.
Tomorrow (Thursday) is the 63rd anniversary of “Tibetan Uprising Day.”
It’s a national day of mourning for those Tibetans who are aware of it. The CCP invited the then 16-year-old Dalai Lama to a “secret” theatrical performance with no security. The news leaked, Tibetans rose up and surrounded the Potala and Norbulingka palaces to protect the Dalai Lama and call for Tibetan freedom. A crackdown inevitably followed, the Dalai Lama went into exile in northern India and has never been able to return to Tibet. The fact that Beijing won’t even talk to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of a country it occupies, is worth thinking about, if even only for several minutes … what’s wrong with these people?
The Wall Street Journal reports that foreign companies’ zeal for investing in China is fading, running out of zest and bubbly—we’ve heard this one before, right? No?
Less than one-half of members surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce in China said they were optimistic that the Chinese government was committed to opening its market to more foreign investment over the next three years, down from 61% a year earlier. More than one-third said they would reduce investment in the country because of an uncertain policy environment.
Then again, from the same report:
Nearly 60% of companies surveyed said the revenue from their China operations rose last year, up from 35% the previous year.
Almost 90% said they were either profitable or breaking even in China, up from 80% the prior year.
It’s weird … this decoupling we hear about all the time—sure, journalists, academics, NGOs and other foreign (and local) busybodies are not welcome in China—but perhaps there’s more international business going on there than most of us realize.
Cue Taiwanese nationalistic glee: (Oh, boy, it’s good to be a “nation”—even if it’s coming from Putin!!!)
In response to global sanctions imposed on it for its invasion of Ukraine, the Taiwan News (among others) reports that Russia has released a list of “unfriendly nations”.
They include Ukraine (obviously), the US, EU countries, the UK, Canada, Montenegro, Switzerland, Albania, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, North Macedonia, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Micronesia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan!
Word has it that Taiwan has been removed from the list, but it had its moment in the sun.