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We're More a Censorship than Sanctions Kind of Crew
But we can get huffy about products such as Australian wine if our feelings are sufficiently hurt: 'Chinese Communist Party Members Guide' (strictly internal distribution only)
The Sunday Wall Street Journal headline says it all, “China Opposes Sanctions and Has a Reputation for Busting Them.”
Chinese companies have repeatedly dodged restrictions on trading with countries like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, according to sanctions investigators from United Nations panels of experts, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and other monitors. A UN panel’s report six months ago, for example, documented how North Korea-connected vessels illegally made 41 coal transfers in about four months just offshore from China’s busiest port.
But China’s all in on censorship. Back to the Wall Street Journal, a Saturday headline this time: “China Censors Paralympics Opening Ceremony, Premier League Over Ukraine.”
There’s only one message that we can really take from this: no stoking anti-war feelings in China when the perpetrator is a Chinese “strategic partner” – for the moment.
International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons opening statement at Winter Paralympic opening ceremony in Beijing on Friday was initially not translated and then silenced.
‘Tonight I want – I must – begin with a message of peace,’ Parsons, a Brazilian who has led the organization since 2017, said in his English-language opening remarks on Friday, addressing Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other guests. ‘I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now. The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate!’
Nobody was expecting compromise supremos, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), to speak up, but IOC President Thomas Bach condemned Putin for Russia’s invasion of Georgia during the 2008 Summer Games and the annexation of Crimea before the end of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. These are apparently breaches of the Olympic Truce and, accordingly, the IOC took back an award it had given Putin in 2001. OK, the award was the golden Olympic award.
Ouch! We’re guessing it’s still sitting on Putin’s desk, though. FedEx has shut down operations in Russia so he can’t send it back to the IOC.
So what’s up with the English Premier League? Well, its matches are going to be blacked out in China because clubs and players are engaging in large-scale displays of support for Ukraine before and during ongoing games.
The censorship is all part of a increasingly divisive world, but it’s the sanctions that are going to lead to seriously bitter disagreements and even conflict (which comes in many varieties, of course).
As the world’s second-biggest economy and its top trading nation, China has the wherewithal to set its own course on sanctions, and its government is reflexively distrustful of U.S.-led rule making. The size and fragmentation of China’s market, with over 5,800 merchant ships, seven of the world’s 10 busiest shipping ports and tens of thousands of bank branches can help hide nefarious activity.
China is also at the cutting edge of developing technology designed as alternatives to Western-backed systems, like a bank money-transfer service modeled on the Swift network and a digital version of its currency, as well as undersea- and satellite-telecommunication links it controls.
Already we’re seeing “breaking” tweets like the following:
But it’s way too soon to see how all this will play out – the extent to which, for example, China can prop up its pal Putin, how much opprobrium and business disruption China itself is prepared to put up with. UnionPay-MIR cards were under discussion, just for example, as early as 2017, according to a UnionPay International press announcement at the time. The latest press announcement maybe just more of the same.
In the meantime, China can be guaranteed to keep on its toes with the censorship – expect the occasional stumble, reversal etc on sanctions.
On the Art of Listening
The Wall Street Journal again – yes, they’re starting to annoy us at ChinaDiction too – asks the question, and it’s a good one …
Putin told us for years what he’d do. The West didn’t listen. Will we now listen to the world’s other threatening autocrats?
Here’s what the Journal says:
As far back as 2007, in a speech at the Munich Security Conference, Mr. Putin excoriated the European security order and teed up NATO enlargement as a “serious provocation” that would justify a serious Russian response. His tone was fierce. In 2008 he reportedly told then-President George W. Bush he didn’t consider Ukraine a real country.
Amid all the talk of watching Ukraine and lessons for Taiwan, the Journal’s question is particularly pertinent. At random – the possible quotes are inexhaustible – here’s The Guardian from pre-history, 2019:
Speaking in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the 40th anniversary of a key cross-strait policy statement, the Chinese president described reunification with Taiwan as unavoidable.
‘Reunification is the historical trend and it is the right path,’ Xi said. ‘Taiwan’s independence is a reversal of history and a dead-end road.’
All people in Taiwan must ‘clearly recognize that Taiwan’s independence would only bring profound disaster to Taiwan’, he said.
All the talk that Ukraine is turning into such a disaster for Putin that not only will Russia collapse, but a risk-averse Xi will realize that reclaiming the sacred ground of Taiwan is just going to be too expensive and troublesome to be worth it is just that – talk.
The world should be listening to what Xi Jinping has been saying since he came to power in 2013. It should be preparing accordingly.
The Economist has a thought-provoking piece on where all the China analysts and journalists are heading now that China is once again becoming a pre-Deng Xiaoping hermit kingdom. “The exodus is turning Singapore into the Vienna of the 21st century,” The Economist argument boldly claims .
Seriously? Take away the threat of total annihilation by China, and Taipei is surely the best place in the region to be observing Taiwan. As the write up itself admits:
Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, offers many … benefits. But it also uses the same official language as China, Mandarin, and has no end of China-watchers of its own. Indeed, in Taiwan, parsing China is an existential matter, given that the Communist Party considers the island to belong to China and threatens to take it back at gunpoint. At the same time, commercial and economic ties across the Taiwan Strait bring with them a nuanced understanding of the business environment—a further argument for moving to Taipei. Reporters and editors, including from the Wall Street Journal, have thus headed to the city, as have correspondents who have waited months or years for Chinese visas before giving up. Some newspapers now have more staff on the island than in China. The Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club has grown by half, to 60 members, in three years.
OK, Singapore is all about business – it’s easier to get things done there – it’s leafy and green and has rule-abiding drivers, but costs are through the roof. Rents are frequently rated as second highest in the world, and as Bloomberg reports, “Singapore is tied with Paris as the world’s second-most expensive city, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s cost of living rankings for 2021.” On the subject of Taiwan, where costs are far lower, we might also note that Taiwan has a free press, direct democracy, rentable square footage (RSF) and a vibrant civil society – all things that Singapore does not. Defamation – an important issue for journalists – if it happens at all – tends to be be pursued by tycoons in Taiwan, not politicians, who will go after journalists in Singapore.
Nowhere is like China to report on China. Yes, everyone speaks Guoyu (known as Putonghua in China) in Taipei, but Taipei is a world apart from any of the major Chinese cities even though you’re speaking nearly the same language and eating nearly the same food. But, and it’s an important but: People talk about China in Taipei, they talk about it incessantly, they read the language, some of them are very well informed about what is happening across the Taiwan Strait (sadly, not as many as you might think, but more on average than in Singapore, based on ChinaDiction’s casual observations). ChinaDiction loves visiting Taipei for a long weekend and eating great food and talking China. Singapore, on other hand, well, Little India is pretty cool.
Put all the China-heads in Singapore and we’ll be back to the days The Economist describes in its Vienna of the 21st century thesis, except it will be finger to the wind again – this time in Singapore:
In the hermit days of Mao Zedong’s China, few foreign observers of the country lived there or could even visit. China-watchers—whether they were academics, journalists, diplomats or spooks—were scattered across Asia and beyond, or perched on China’s edge in the listening post of British-run Hong Kong. Analysis of the Chinese economy and, especially, of the Communist Party’s secretive politics was often just finger-in-the-wind speculation—and frequently wrong.
Let’s stick with Taiwan, because Mike Pompeo – that’s a former US Secretary of State – visited. Taiwan’s United Daily News is reporting he was paid US$150,000 to deliver a speech calling on the US to recognize Taiwan as the “Republic of China (Taiwan)” and to end its policy of strategic ambiguity on the defense Taiwan.
“Strategic ambiguity,” if you’re not Taiwan-strait obsessed, is basically, we might come to Taiwan’s defense, we might not, make your move at your own discretion, and depending on who’s running America, Go ahead, make my day punk … Or, it’s all yours, have it, the bubble tea and everything.
OK, back to Pompeo, the immediate question is, Why didn’t he implement abandoning strategic ambiguity when he was in office?
Pompeo and his former boss Donald Trump are popular in Taiwan. Put this down to Taiwan’s desperation for attention and reassurance from its distant enigmatic big brother, the “beautiful country,” the US. It’s also related to an atavistic desire in some cobwebbed corners of Taiwan for a strong leader like Trump to be running the “free world,”
But maybe it’s mostly just the Taiwanese public doesn’t really get American politics. Taiwanese like loud, colorful American politicians like Trump and Reagan in the sense they see American politics as “spectacle,” a circus, prime-time professional wrestling.
Pompeo didn’t do any of the things he now says are important when he was in office, but he did relax antiquated rules restricting how the US government interacts with Taiwanese diplomats and declassify the Six Assurances Reagan made to Taiwan. The Trump administration also sold Taiwan US$20 billion in weapons during the Trump administration as Pompeo triumphantly declared in his Taipei speech.
Taiwanese pay attention to stuff like this. Yes, it’s alleged that Pompeo was invited, was paid a handsome fee, and it appears he may have pitched investments in a US “special situations fund” called Anarock to Taiwan’s de-facto embassy in the US.
Actually, so what? say many regular Taiwanese. The last KMT government paid Bill Clinton US$750,000 to come to Taiwan for a speech in 2010 that largely affirmed the then president, Ma Ying-jeou administration’s policy of opening up Taiwan to Chinese investment.
The damaging aspect here is that Pompeo is alleged to be hustling for investments from Taiwanese sovereign wealth and pension funds. The Taiwanese government has somewhat unconvincingly denied these reports but it now appears that in addition to the embassy visit last summer, there was also an online meeting earlier this year.
So, now we really get into the Taiwan/China politics …
Who broke these stories and how? Pro-Chinese media in Taiwan were beneficiaries of a leaked government document and the confidential contract from the Public Speakers Bureau, the agency that arranged Pompeo’s visit. While the documents appear to be genuine, the level of coordination between leakers in government and pro-China media have aroused local suspicions – an effort to smear the Taiwanese government, discredit Pompeo’s affirmation of Taiwan sovereignty, and undercut the possibility that Pompeo could be the next US president.
For Americans of a certain political persuasion, progressive Taiwan kicked a self-goal by associating itself with a dangerous and reckless US administration that nearly subverted American democracy. But for many Taiwanese, the well-timed reports were an obvious product of China’s United Front strategy to sow distrust and dissension in Taiwan over closer relations with the US.
Michael Fahey in Taiwan
Cobalt, the New York Times reminds us, “is essential for electric vehicles because it extends battery range. It is now trading at a three-year high.” But, what’s it got to do with China? A lot, because China basically runs the EV supply chain, as NPR, among others, frequently remind us.
So, when the Democratic Republic of Congo sidelines the Chinese owner of one of the world’s largest copper and cobalt mines it’s a big deal for China – and for Congo.
The ruling, which removes Chinese leadership of the mine for at least six months, stems from a dispute over billions of dollars in payments the Congolese government says it is owed by the Chinese owner, China Molybdenum.
Backed by Chinese government financing, the company bought the Tenke Fungurume mine in 2016 from an Arizona-based mining company. The mine figures prominently in the Chinese government’s effort to dominate major supply chains for minerals and metals needed in the production of batteries for electric vehicles.
China’s Belt and Road incursions into “here there be dragons” territory will predictably continue to run into issues like this one in Congo – it may seem too obvious to be worth point out, but building empires takes time. You don’t get your hands on the world’s resources with five-year plans.
SupChina has a fascinating piece on Xinjiang’s new Communist Party boss (party secretary, to be precise).
In one of his first speeches as party secretary, Ma [Xingrui] emphasized that under his leadership, Xinjiang’s counter-terrorism and ethnic stability issues would be ‘normalized’ according to the rule of law. In the short speech, he mentioned the ‘rule of law’ more than 20 times.
Ma, a technocrat with a doctorate from the elite Harbin Institute of Technology, drew on his experience in the information technology and defense sector to rise through the Party ranks and become the governor of Guangdong province, one of the most prosperous and influential regions in the country. Now he brings this technical expertise and political experience to a region with a great deal of investment in surveillance and policing.
Before anyone gets too excited, it looks like Ma has the unenviable job of “normalizing” the global view of Xinjiang as ground zero for the most aggressive and massive attacks on a religious minority since World War II. It’s almost certainly a mission impossible because, by talking about emptying the camps and restoring religious freedoms, China would essentially be admitting these were issues to begin with.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that, according to SupChina, Ma has been meeting with leading business leaders to talk about …
How artificial intelligence and bioscience development will figure in Xinjiang’s future.
As governor of Guangdong Province, Ma was famously infatuated with digital technologies that have been used in Xinjiang to control the population. Loose translation from Chinese on Ma’s Guangdong efforts, which focused, reportedly on:
The construction of a digital economy, innovation and development pilot zone that promotes deep integration of the digital economy and the real economy consolidating the development advantages of the digital industry, and promoting the development and growth of industries such as artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, and the Internet of Things.
And so on … throw in 5G – 7G if you like – and you get the idea. The Uyghurs in Xinjiang, in other words, are as oppressed as ever, but future foreign guests might get to see a gee-whizz version of the future.
Spare a thought for Lithuania. They’re still out there between a rock and hard place, reports The Economist.
ChinaDiction cannot improve on the dry eloquence of this Economist lede:
China shouldn’t get riled by Lithuania at all,” one of China’s best-known nationalist commentators, Hu Xijin, opined on his social-media account. “It’s a snotty little country – just not worth it.” The Chinese government is paying no heed. As Russia invades one European democracy, China is boycotting another. Ukraine’s offense was to be an independent country. Lithuania’s was to give Taiwan an opportunity to hint that it is.
There are several themes to this ChinaDiction newsletter: China and sanctions, Chinese censorship and China actually, possibly meaning what it says – we should probably listen. But, anyway, here how “snotty little Lithuania” gets the China treatment:
In the past, when chastising countries that offend them, China’s rulers have been more selective, curbing or blocking only certain imports. In Lithuania’s case, not only are exports to China being stopped, but also some products containing Lithuanian parts. Supplies of Chinese raw materials to Lithuania are being disrupted, too. Ausrine Armonaite, Lithuania’s economics minister, says China’s retaliation against her country has been “unconventional”. “Today it’s Lithuania, right? Tomorrow it might be any other country.”
See our Singapore, Vienna of the East entry above, for the difficulties of reporting out of China. We know next to nothing about what is going on in Tibet, although the Central Tibetan Administration, often referred to as the Tibetan Government in Exile in Dharamshala in northern India and other exiled organizations do their best to provide the world with information.
In other words, to get an idea of how many Tibetans have self-immolated in protest against religious repression and China rule in recent years, ChinaDiction had to turn to Wikipedia:
As of March 2022, 158 monks, nuns, and ordinary people self-immolated in Tibet since 27 February 2009, when Tapey, a young monk from Kirti Monastery, set himself on fire in the marketplace in Ngawa City, Ngawa County, Sichuan [Province].
The latest is the 25-year-old artist pictured above. Losar is Tibetan New Year. The Potala is the palace of Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.
Every now and again, the world needs to be reminded that Chinese media is insane. The Global Times is the best source for state media madness and that’s where we are today. The headline speaks for itself:
Qingdao authority says outbreak caused by Omicron-carrying object, reverses earlier statement that it was from deliveries
So, that’s that sorted, right? No, not really, not if you read on:
The Qingdao health department announced Sunday morning that the outbreak in Huangdao District was caused by the infection of people who received express deliveries from affected areas in other provinces. However, Xue Qingguo, the deputy mayor of the city, clarified in the afternoon press briefing on the same day that the cause was actually objects carrying the Omicron variant, "but not express deliveries."
Conclusion: Omicron can be carried on objects but not express. ChinaDiction is sure we’ll be hearing more about this in the near future.
We’re in Humpty Dumpty territory:
‘When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
Ditto for “sedition” in Hong Kong.