Xi Jinping says democracy is now in the hands of Hong Kong’s “patriots”. China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi visits Pakistan. The United States and its allies will invest $600 billion in an infrastructure plan to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Chinascope goes beyond the headlines to bring the stories from China that changed our world this week.
China over the week
There are many reasons for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to celebrate 1 July. After all, it is the official foundation day of the party. But this year’s anniversary had a special significance, as Hong Kong also marked the 25th anniversary of its handover to Beijing.
President Xi Jinping made his first trip outside of the Chinese mainland since the pandemic started in 2020 to mark the event. “Today, I would like to stress again that ‘one country, two systems’ has been repeatedly tested in practice. It is in line with the fundamental interests of the country and the nation, as well as the fundamental interests of Hong Kong and Macau. It has been generally approved by the international community. Such a good system, there is no reason to change it, it must be adhered to for a long time,” said Xi during his speech on 1 July.
The ‘one country, two systems’ approach has defined Hong Kong’s relative autonomy. But the principle has lost meaning since Beijing introduced the National Security Law in Hong Kong and eroded the country’s autonomy.
“Hong Kong has now truly become democratic after coming under the control of patriots,” Xi said. But the visuals from Hong Kong told a different story. A video of Legislative Council members taking an oath of allegiance to CCP and Beijing, while Xi watched was the defining visual of the visit.
Beijing ensured that no one could spoil its celebration in Hong Kong. The United Kingdom’s embassy in China shared a post on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo with details about the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was censored.
But the censorship ensured the ‘correct’ social media trends were viewed by most. The hashtag “25th anniversary of Hong Kong returns to the motherland” was viewed 2.44 billion times on Weibo.
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Before arriving in Hong Kong, Xi made a halt in Wuhan, where he emphasised the continuation of the zero-Covid policy. “My country has a large population base. If we implement prevention and control policies such as ‘collective immunity’ and ‘lying flat’, the consequences will be disastrous. Our implementation of the dynamic clearing policy is determined by the Party Central Committee from the nature and purpose of the party and the national conditions of our country,” Xi said during his visit.
Xi wasn’t the only high-profile Chinese politician who travelled outside of the mainland last week. Yang Jiechi, the Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, was also on a trip to Pakistan between 29 June and 4 July to meet Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Yang Jiechi is the most empowered diplomat and sits on top of the foreign policy bureaucracy in China.
“Pakistan is China’s ‘hardcore’ friend and reliable brother. No matter how the international situation changes, the mutual trust and friendship between China and Pakistan are rock-solid,” Yang told Shariff during the visit.
Yang also met foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. A day before Yang’s visit to Pakistan, Nikkei Asian Review reported that China’s Ministry of State Security had asked Pakistan to allow a Chinese security company to operate inside Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry objected to the request and told China its forces could provide adequate security to Chinese nationals and CPEC projects.
That’s not it, though. Yet another Chinese politician travelled outside the mainland on CCP’s business.
Wang Qishan, the Chinese Vice President, who was in the Philippines to attend the inauguration ceremony of newly elected Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Wang, called on the Philippines to improve the bilateral relationship by ‘properly handling’ the South China Sea dispute.
“The Chinese side has always given priority to the Philippines in its neighbourhood diplomacy, and is ready to work with the new Philippine government in carrying on their friendship, boosting mutual trust and deepening cooperation so as to usher in a new ‘golden age’ in bilateral ties,” said Wang Qishan while in Manila.
Xi, Wang and Yang’s coordinated visits outside of the Chinese mainland is a signal that China may allow more to travel to the mainland in the coming months.
But as government officials go out of China to strengthen ties, XI is trying to strengthen his hold on the throne within the country. Wang Xiaohong, one of Xi’s allies, was appointed the Minister of Public Security—which is at the top of the surveillance food chain.
His appointment is a sign that Xi is trying to consolidate his support within the internal security system ahead of the 20th Party Congress.
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China in world news
After months of speculation about Beijing’s overt support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, there is little that has come in the way of direct support. But Washington believes that some Chinese companies are independently supporting Russia.
The US Department of Commerce has added five Chinese companies to its entity list for providing support to Russia’s military and defence companies. “Today’s action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the globe that if they seek to support Russia, the US will cut them off,” said Alan Estevez, under-secretary of commerce.
The move has made many wonder if the US is now openly blaming Beijing for supporting Russia’s war. And the US officials had to clarify their position. “China is not providing material support. This is normal course-of-business enforcement action against entities that have been backfilling for Russia,” a senior Biden administration official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.
While attending an international security forum in 2018, I noticed a subtle shift in the language used by NATO to describe China’s growing influence globally. Things have come full circle since then, as NATO has now declared China a “security challenge” in the first such declaration.
“We now face an era of strategic competition… China is substantially building up its forces, including in nuclear weapons, bullying its neighbour including Taiwan,” NATO Chief Jen Stoltenberg said.
But the Chinese state media did not sit quietly on these allegations and responded to framing China as a strategic challenge.
“China is thousands of miles away from Europe, and has never in history posed any security challenge to the organization. Rather, the security challenge comes the other way round, with NATO in recent years flexing its muscles in the Asia-Pacific region by sending warships and military aircraft to the South China Sea,” an editorial by China Daily said.
Meanwhile, at the gathering of the G7 leaders in the Bavarian Alps, President Biden announced that the US and its allies plan to invest $600 billion in infrastructure projects to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The funding will be made available through a combination of direct government and private investment with an aim to counter-challenge autocracies.
A new Pew survey on views about China has confirmed the negative views we have noticed over the past two years.
“Across the nations surveyed, a median of 79 per cent consider these policies a serious problem, and 47 per cent say they are a very serious problem. Among the four issues asked about – also including China’s military power, economic competition with China and China’s involvement in domestic politics in each country – more people label the human rights policies as a very serious problem than say the same of the others” Pew Research report said.
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Must read this week
Beijing is trying to weaken sanctions on Russia — Joe Webster
Experts this week
“…It is questionable that the United States attempts to use the ‘US-Japan-India-Australia Quad Mechanism’ to lead the construction of alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. For the United States, if the Asia-Pacific region wants to reshape its alliances, it mainly relies on the Five Eyes alliance, AUKUS and multiple bilateral alliances. The ‘Quad Security Dialogue’ is only a supplementary mechanism, not a primary mechanism,” wrote Li Haidong, Professor, Institute of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University.
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with a 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 Srinjoy Dey)