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China cracks down on fake news, foreign media as Wang Yi calls US balloon saga ‘hysterical’

Wang Yi, director of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, is visiting France, Italy, Hungary & Russia from 14-22 February to fix damaged bilateral ties.

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Beijing will continue its campaign against ‘fake news’ and foreign media organisations. New Delhi has approved the induction of 9,400 troops for seven new Indo-Tibetan Border Police battalions. Chinese Foreign Affairs director Wang Yi says Beijing will present a ‘peace plan’ for the Russia-Ukraine war. A US bipartisan resolution calls Arunachal Pradesh an integral part of India. Chinascope looks at Beijing’s high-powered diplomacy in Europe–and the world.

China over the week

This past week, Chinese State media has hinted that a campaign targeting so-called ‘fake news’ and foreign media operations in the mainland, which began in 2022, will proceed with full steam in 2023. The campaign is called “cracking down on fake news”, which will take a more expansive view of targeting fake news in the financial and political sphere – especially the Chinese internet.

It is being coordinated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s Central Propaganda Department and 12 other departments to target a host of websites, news organisations and entities that publish news on social, economic or political issues.

“In the past year, we have punished commercial websites, internet organisations and public accounts that illegally reported news, cleaned up fake media, and punished organisations and media personnel that published news for profit,” wrote South China Morning Post while citing a report by the Xinhua News agency.

Foreign media organisations operating from the Chinese mainland have already trimmed their staff and moved them to Taipei after Beijing arbitrarily detained journalists. We will likely witness further crackdown on the remaining foreign media reporting from the Chinese mainland.

China’s mute position on the Russia-Ukraine war has left many in Europe with an unsavoury taste, and Beijing’s relations with most countries in the bloc have taken a plunge. Wang Yi, director of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, is visiting France, Italy, Hungary and Russia from 14 to 22 February.

In Paris, Wang met French President Emmanuel Macron to convey Chinese President Xi Jinping’s greetings and mend relations that have remained unsettled since Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“China always regards France as a priority partner for cooperation and is ready to further step up high-level exchanges with France to open up new prospects for China-France relations, add new momentum to China-EU relations, and make new contributions to promoting international cooperation and tackling global challenges,” said Wang during his meeting with Macron on 16 February.

While in Germany, Wang met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. His discussions with Scholz focused on the Russia-Ukraine war.

“China and Germany are independent major countries and shoulder common responsibilities for maintaining world peace and responding to global challenges. China has always stood on the side of peace, is committed to promoting peace and talks, and advocates an early ceasefire and cessation of war. It is hoped that the German side will play a constructive role in cooling down the situation,” said Wang during his meeting with Scholz on 18 February.

That same day, Wang made an appearance at the annual Munich Security Conference, where he spoke at length about China’s plans.

Wang said Beijing would propose a plan for Russia-Ukraine peace talks as he met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a highly anticipated meeting at the sidelines of the conference. The plan will come in the form of a position paper by Beijing.

The hashtag “China will announce its position on the political solution to the Ukraine war” was viewed 46 million times on the Chinese microblogging website Weibo.

However, Wang had something to say about China’s balloon affair with the US in Munich. He called Washington’s reaction to the balloon “hysterical”.

“There are so many balloons all over the world, so is the United States going to shoot all of them down?,” said Wang during his interview at the conference.

Wang told Blinken to “face up to and resolve the damage” to US-China bilateral relations caused by an “indiscriminate use of force”. Blinken is said to have warned Wang about Beijing’s support for Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“There are various kinds of lethal assistance that they are at least contemplating providing, to include weapons,” said Blinken about Beijing’s plans to provide assistance to Russia.

Also read: Buddhist leader Master Hsing’s death shows religion still plays a role in Xi Jinping’s China

China in world news

The recent clash between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has brought back the focus on New Delhi’s capability to use ITBP as the first line of defence against Beijing’s aggression.

Now, the Cabinet Committee on Security has approved the induction of 9,400 troops into seven new battalions, 47 new border outposts and 12 staging camps of the ITBP along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The decision will boost ITBP’s presence in Arunachal Pradesh—a force that patrols the 3,500-kilometre-long India-China border.

“This has been a long-pending proposal from the ITBP and has been there since 2013-14. Initially, it was envisaged to raise 12 new battalions but has now been decreased to seven battalions. This has been in conjunction with the decision to increase the number of border outposts and staging camps along the LAC,” said an official from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

In a related decision, the government has also earmarked Rs 4,800 crore for the ‘Vibrant Villages Programme’ to promote settlement in border areas and reverse out-migration from the region.

“Today’s Cabinet decision on the Vibrant Villages Programme will be beneficial for several people living in remote areas and border areas. Sectors such as tourism, skill development, entrepreneurship will be among the many key focus areas,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a 15 February Tweet.

There is little doubt that New Delhi’s Vibrant Villages Programme is a response to Beijing’s ‘well-off ’ or Xiaokang villages along the LAC. The push to promote settlements in the border villages is a welcome move, but the programme will require integrating long-term employment for the settlers with sustainable livelihood in the remote villages, which Beijing has struggled with for some time.

The Union cabinet’s twin decision on boosting ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ security parameters along the border comes at a time when the US is increasingly concerned about the direction of India-China border tensions.

On 16 February, the US Congress introduced a bipartisan resolution calling Arunachal Pradesh an integral part of India.

“The United States recognises the state of Arunachal Pradesh not as a disputed territory but as an integral part of the Republic of India, and this recognition is not qualified in any way,” said the bipartisan resolution introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley and Bill Hagerty from the Democrat and Republican Parties respectively.

Though both India and China have tried to keep the US at bay in the current phase of military build-up at the border, Washington is likely to offer India serious support on an issue that New Delhi finds difficult to address.

Yet another recent development highlights the race to plug the infrastructure along the LAC.

Beijing announced a new railway line connecting Shigatse with Pakhuktso, which will be completed by 2025. The next construction phase, to be completed by 2035, will connect Tibet with Xinjiang, and the railway line will pass through Aksai Chin, ending in Xinjiang’s Hotan.

“According to the plans, the section between Ya’an in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province and Nyingchi city in Tibet of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, the section between Xigaze and Pelku Lake in Tibet of the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway, and the section from Bomi county to Ranwu Lake of the Yunnan-Tibet Railway will be operating by 2025,” reported Chinese State media.

A detailed plan of the cities to be linked under the railway project has also emerged.

“In general, Tibet will build ‘two horizontal and three vertical’ railroad main channels.

A map of the planned railway line projects was shared by Chinese State media.

“Tibet also plans to build an international railway corridor to South Asia to open the international railway channel between China and South Asian countries,” added a Chinese media report about the plan.

The plan to build a railway project across Aksai Chin is a critical step linked to Beijing’s massive military build-up along the LAC. Beijing will use its military presence in the immediate areas of Eastern Ladakh to bolster its infrastructure projects, such as the railway line across Aksai Chin.

Also read: China a past master at spy balloons. India sighted one in 1978 near Allahabad

Must read this week

Why more Chinese tourism means more capital flight – The Economist

Assessing the Role of the PLA Southern Theater Command in a China-India Contingency – Suyash Desai for the Jamestown Foundation

Chinese TV series shines light on Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crusade – Joe Leahy and Kai WaluszewskiFinancial Times

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He is currently a MOFA Taiwan Fellow based in Taipei and tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)

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