Taiwan + Women's rights + Global internet architecture
China’s tone regarding Taiwan becomes noticeably more aggressive
Over three months after Russia attacked Ukraine and amid rising US-China tensions in the Indo-Pacific, Beijing’s tone regarding Taiwan has become even more aggressive. Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe used the Shangri-La Dialogue on Asia-Pacific security, held in Singapore from June 10-12, to deliver a combative address about geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific. He reserved his harshest words for Taiwan and for the United States’ “power politics”. Just days after US President Joe Biden said that the US would respond militarily if China attacked Taiwan, Wei proclaimed that China “will not hesitate to fight” if anyone dared to help Taiwan “secede” from China.
The following day, China’s Foreign Ministry took up the issue of Taiwan again during its regular press conference. Spokesperson Wang Wenbin claimed that the Taiwan Strait cannot be designated international waters, as China has “sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait". These claims have apparently been repeated by Chinese officials in meetings with US counterparts, according to media reports. This harsh rhetoric and military pressure on Taiwan – which may extend to China attempting to block foreign military vessels from entering the Taiwan Strait – are signs Beijing is preparing for the eventuality of taking the island by force, should it decide red lines have been crossed.
While China has gone to great lengths to deny any connections between its steps regarding Taiwan and Russia’s attempt to seize its southwesterly neighbor, Beijing will have been watching Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine closely for any lessons it may distill for its own plans for Taiwan. The war in Eastern Europe will have underscored the key importance of preventing other powers from getting involved, either by achieving a fast victory or by blockading Taiwan to prevent the arrival of Western supplies or reinforcements. China’s claims regarding the legal status of the Taiwan Strait seem like an attempt to draw a new red line and create facts on the ground to this effect.
MERICS analysis: “Wei’s comments are not a sign that an invasion of Taiwan is imminent, as this is still an outcome that the Chinese leadership would ideally like to avoid,” said Helena Legarda, Lead Analyst at MERICS: “It is likely that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will want to revise its war scenarios for Taiwan based on lessons from the war in Ukraine. This will take time. But current trends suggest that Beijing is increasingly likely to resort to military means in the mid-term, given the failure of repeated attempts to convince Taiwan’s successive governments and population to ‘reunify’ with China. It does appear to be laying the ground for such an attack.”
Media coverage and sources:
- International Institute for Strategic Studies: The Shangri-La Dialogue
- Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (CN): 2022年6月13日外交部发言人汪文斌主持例行记者会
- Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (CN): 2022年4月15日外交部发言人赵立坚主持例行记者会
Up to 60 million online followers of Chinese influencer Li Jiaqi inadvertently caught a glimpse of one of the most censored issues on China’s internet – the Tian’anmen Square crackdown of 1989. As human rights advocates around the world commemorated the tank-led crushing of the protests on June 3-4, 1989, Chinese censors were busy keeping China’s internet clean of any unwelcome references to the events. On June 3, one of their targets was Li, whose livestream was abruptly cut off when he appeared to show a tank-shaped cake on screen. Although the film clip was apparently not meant as a protest, Li’s whereabouts remain unknown. Under the pressure of constant censorship, memory of Tian’anmen is gradually fading in China. But according to reports, at least a part of his young viewers used virtual private networks to research the crackdown. (Source: Reuters)
Brutal attack on women in Tangshan shocks China
The facts: A violent assault on three women dining at a restaurant in Tangshan, Hebei province, was caught in graphic detail by surveillance cameras and caused outrage among millions across China. The brutal attack unleashed longstanding sentiments about gender inequality, misogyny and violence against women in China. Online, citizens questioned why China’s advanced surveillance system failed to respond to the incident, why so many passers-by appeared to ignore it and why official media outlets slipped into victim-blaming.
What to watch: Proposed revisions to the Women’s Rights and Interests Law are set for a third and final review by lawmakers in the second half of the year. If passed, acts such as verbal expressions with sexual connotations will be outlawed and employers will be obliged to adopt policies to address sexual harassment in the workplace. However, the changes do not go far enough to address critical shortcomings in legal enforcement. Under the proposed revisions, companies can be fined or have their licenses suspended for failure to report kidnappings or the abuse of women. But the police response in sexual harassment cases will still be limited to “giving criticism and education or issuing a written warning”.
MERICS analysis: “The incident in Tangshan shines a stark light on the precarious status of women in Chinese society,” says MERICS Analyst Valarie Tan. “Their lack of protections and of legal recourse stems from deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes and a party-state regime which regards women as subjects of the state who are expected to serve the national interest. Feminists and advocates of women’s rights have been labelled as “radical”, “Westernized” and socially de-stabilizing forces. Despite reforms, women are regularly subjected to abuse, harassment, and gender-based discrimination.
Media coverage and sources:
China’s foreign capital inflows recover amid global volatility
The facts: A notable uptick in foreign capital entering China’s financial markets helped to turn what had been capital outflows in previous months to a small net inflow of USD 2.5 billion in May. In previous months, foreign investors had sold Chinese assets as they worried about China getting caught up in sanctions against Russia and the economic effects of Beijing’s renewed Covid-19 lockdowns. But last month foreign investors were buying again. They were apparently spurred by the rising value of key indicators like the blue-chip China Securities Index (CSI), expectations of implicit guarantees after strong pro-growth signals from Beijing, signs that China will avoid getting sanctioned for supporting Russia and the ending of the Shanghai lockdown (at time of writing).
What to watch: With the US Federal Reserve cranking up interest rates to combat high inflation in the US, capital accounts globally are experiencing considerable volatility, with US and European markets looking bearish. Signs of an economic downturn may be driving professional investors in the US and EU to turn to China again. They appear to be hoping that Beijing can tamp down the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, allowing China to reclaim the “any safe port in a storm” position it had throughout large parts of the pandemic years 2020 and 2021.
MERICS analysis: “From a purely statistical perspective, it seems sensible for foreign investors to be returning to China’s capital accounts,” said Jacob Gunter, MERICS Senior Analyst. “But one does have to wonder how many on Wall Street looked into Premier Li Keqiang’s late May call with officials across the country, which clearly and desperately aimed to keep the economy from falling into complete disarray amidst the ongoing Omicron outbreaks and lockdowns.”
Media coverage and sources:
Ma Xingrui – Xinjiang’s versatile Party Secretary is set for promotion this fall
Among the contenders for a Politburo seat at this fall’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress, Ma Xingrui brings an unusually broad set of experience. The 62-year-old Heilongjiang native being promoted to Party Secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in December 2021, a politically sensitive post, showed Xi Jinping’s trust in him. As his predecessor Chen Quanguo is now also likely to vacate his Politburo seat on account of age, Ma looks set join the CCP’s second-most important decision-making body.
Despite the elevation, Ma could well keep his other job in Xinjiang. This could be intended to signal a shift from Chen’s hardline “counter-terrorism” rhetoric to a new focus on economic development – at least when it comes to official statements.
Ma holds a PhD in mechanics and brings a rare versatility to the job: administrative experience after serving as Governor in Guangdong (2016-21) and business savviness after managing state-owned aerospace enterprises. He is considered part of the “aerospace-clique” (航天系) of officials with experience in space and defense, areas crucial for China’s industrial strategy and national security.
Ma proved himself by helping to develop strategic technologies with dual use applications. A high priority for Xi, this helped Ma rise through the ranks without ever directly working for the CCP’s General Secretary. Having served as Vice-Minister of Industry and Information Technology and as Director of China’s National Space Administration (in which time China saw through its first lunar-surface exploration mission), Ma has a highly diverse profile that includes experience in corporate, technical-administrative and political leadership posts. Add loyalty to Xi and relative youth to that mix – and out comes a strong candidate for even higher office in the future.
Media coverage and sources:
- Baidu (CN): 马兴瑞（新疆维吾尔自治区党委书记，新疆生产建设兵团党委第一书记、第一政委）
- South China Morning Post: Xinjiang’s new party chief calls for efforts to boost supply chains and improve international business
- SupChina: What can we expect from Xinjiang’s new party boss Ma Xingrui?
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