In this week’s Chinascope, we look at Chinese social media’s reaction to General Bipin Rawat’s death, PLA soldier Qi Fabao’s appearance on national television, Nicaragua switching ties from Taiwan to Beijing, and other vital stories developing in China – and the world.
China over the week
The death of India’s Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat became a topic of discussion on Chinese social media platforms.
The search trend “Indian Chief of Defence Staff dies in crash” was the fourth top item on Baidu’s top search results soon after the news was confirmed. The Baidu trend was viewed 4.63 million times on Wednesday and continued to grow. The hashtag “India’s chief of staff’s helicopter crashed” was viewed 93 million times on Weibo.
On Friday, the Chinese Ministry of Defence “expressed sympathy” and paid “condolences to the Indian side” for Rawat’s death.
Weibo users shared an old video of Chinese military commentator Zhang Zhaozhong responding to Bipin Rawat’s remarks about China. Zhang cited the rate of aircraft crashes in India and pushed back against Rawat, who called China a strategic threat. Weibo users said Zhang’s prophecy had “come true”.
“Although Rawat has ‘limited capabilities’ on the issue of military reform, he seems ‘full of vitality’ on diplomatic issues. Rawat has long played up the ‘China threat’, which not only created obstacles to the stable development of Sino-Indian relations but also created problems for his diplomatic colleagues,” wrote Wang Siyuan, a South Asia focused researcher.
Since the clash between China’s PLA and Indian Army, Beijing has tried to control the narrative around the Galwan clash in June 2020.
Chinese state-run broadcaster CCTV invited Qi Fabao, one of the People’s Liberation Army soldiers who survived in Galwan, to share his experience of “defending the motherland” against “foreign troops”. In a nationalistic broadcast meant for the domestic audience, Qi recounted getting injured in June 2020 and defending the “motherland from foreign troops.”
“When I returned to consciousness, I was thinking if the enemy had been stopped and whether my fellow soldiers were safe,” said Qi, adding, “I would go forward and die rather than retreat. We must not lose our motherland’s territory!”
Qi Fabao told CCTV that he was ready to “return to the battlefield”. He didn’t mention India by name, referring to the Indian Army as “foreign troops”, but he did talk about the Karakoram as the frontline for Chinese PLA.
The nationalistic overtone of the broadcast reveals that Beijing remains heavily invested in keeping a lid on the events of the Galwan clash.
Despite some recovery in the manufacturing sector, China’s real estate bubble continues to send distress signals to the rest of the world. This past week after the company failed to make two coupon payments, Chinese property developer Evergrande was officially labelled as a defaulter by Fitch Ratings.
Evergrande’s failure may trigger a $19.2 billion debt default. The company’s lenders have seized more than $600 million worth of shares belonging to the chairman of Evergrande, Hui Ka Yan.
Amid the growing concerns about the severe challenges to the Chinese economy from the pandemic, Xi Jinping held the Central Economic Work Conference in Beijing. Xi said that China is facing three major pressures – “demand contraction, supply-side shock, and weakening expectations”.
“To achieve the goal of common prosperity, we must first make the ‘cake’ bigger and better through the common struggle of the people of the whole country, and then cut and divide the ‘cake’ through reasonable institutional arrangements,” he said. Xi also emphasised supporting small enterprises, technological innovation, and green development.
China in world news
UK spy chief Jeremy Fleming rarely gives interviews about the work of his agency, GCHQ – the country’s technical intelligence agency
Fleming has warned about digital renminbi becoming a surveillance tool in an interview with Financial Times. “It gives them the ability…to be able to exercise control over what is conducted on those digital currencies,” he said.
Fleming called China UK’s “biggest strategic issue”, and it is investing heavily in the way the future rules of the digital world will be governed.
Taiwan’s diplomatic relations are constantly strained as Beijing attempts to poach the remaining countries that maintain formal ties with Taipei.
This past week, Nicaragua officially switched ties from Taipei to Beijing and acknowledged that Taiwan was part of China. “The government of the Republic of Nicaragua today breaks diplomatic relations with Taiwan and ceases to have any contact or official relationship,” said the official statement by Nicaragua.
Taiwan is now left with 13 countries, and the Holy See (Vatican), that maintain official diplomatic ties. A Central American government, Honduras, recently indicated they might also establish diplomatic ties with Beijing.
A US official told Reuters that Nicaragua did it to insulate against the sanctions imposed by the US and other countries. The US is trying to ensure Honduras doesn’t switch ties to Beijing as the country hosts a US military unit called Joint Task Force Bravo airbase.
Singapore’s balancing foreign policy act between the US and China is well known. Former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo said that China needs “charm in a multipolar world”.
Yeo spoke to students at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Singapore’s Think China website initially published Yeo’s remarks, later widely shared by some Chinese state media.
What you must read this week
Xi Jinping’s New World Order – Elizabeth Economy
Beijing Silenced Peng Shuai in 20 Minutes, Then Spent Weeks on Damage Control – NYT
Experts this week
“However, China is a country shaped by the concept of civilisational history, and it is also the only large-scale civilisation in the world with an uninterrupted history. Such a civilisation has absorbed and changed foreign civilisations and civilised the “barbarians”. Foreign rulers have not taken China. The 200-year-old US wants to change to a 5,000-year-old China. Such a strategy is a product of the lack of understanding of Chinese history,” wrote Yang Guangbin, dean of the school of international studies at Renmin University.
India’s former ambassador to China, Nirupama Rao, recently published her new book The Fractured Himalaya: India Tibet China, 1949-62. Rao spoke to Milan Vaishnav, the host of the Grand Tamasha podcast, about her new book and the state of India-China relations. Chinascope recommends listening to the conversation.
Hong Kong’s media tycoon Jimmy Lai and seven other pro-democracy activists are likely to be sentenced on Monday by a court for their involvement in a candlelight vigil.
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with focus on China from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
This is a weekly round-up that Aadil Brar writes about what’s buzzing in China. This will soon be available as a subscribers’-only product.
(Edited by Prashant)