This week’s Chinascope looks at reports of General Zhang Xudong’s death, information warfare between India and China, tensions over Taiwan, and meeting between Yang Jiechi and Jake Sullivan.
China over the week
In one of the biggest military-related news, South China Morning Post reported the death of Chinese senior military commander, General Zhang Xudong, citing unnamed People’s Liberation Army sources. The report said Zhang was suffering from “cancer and problems with his gastrointestinal tract”. Chinese State media haven’t confirmed Zhang’s death, and his Baike encyclopedia entry doesn’t mention his demise.
Zhang was the former head of the Western Theatre Command – during the height of the India-China Ladakh standoff – before being replaced. He was unheard of since his replacement. SCMP added that Zhang’s replacement, Xu Qiling, is in poor health as well.
Following the news about Zhang, images showing detained Indian soldiers after the Galwan valley clash in June 2020 were shared on Chinese social media platform Weibo. China’s PLA detained Indian soldiers after a clash with the Indian Army on 15 June, who were released later.
Recently, reports emerged about a face-off between the PLA and the Indian Army near Yantgse in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh. A report had suggested that the Indian Army detained a few PLA soldiers, who were later released.
China Daily reported PLA’s denial about the detention of their soldiers by the Indian Army.
“The Indian media’s recent hype about Chinese soldiers being detained for “crossing the line” is false and inconsistent with the facts. In this incident, the Indian side deliberately provoked first, distorted, discredited, and seriously violated the bilateral agreement,” China Daily reported citing unnamed PLA sources.
The leaked images and the denial published by China Daily came ahead of the 13th round of military-level talks between India and China on 10 October. The talks will be held on the Chinese side of Chushul-Moldo.
Now onto Taiwan.
In the last edition of Chinascope, we told you about the growing tension in Taiwan Strait because of Beijing’s actions and the flying of many Chinese military jets near Taiwan.
On Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech ahead of the 110th anniversary of the Xinhai revolution in 1911.
“Taiwan issue had arisen from the weak and chaotic nation, and will surely be resolved with national rejuvenation,” Xi Jinping said in his remarks sitting in front of the picture of Sun Yat-sen. In 1911, Sun Yet-sen overthrew the last Qing ruler and ended the rule of the Manchu-led empire.
“I call on all Chinese people at home and abroad to unite more closely, carry forward the great spirit of Sun Yat-sen and other pioneers of the Revolution of 1911, and join hands to continue to march forward courageously towards the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Xi Jinping added. The phase between 1912 to 1949 when Mao Zedong led the Chinese Communist Party to power was the phase of “Nationalist China”.
Sun Yat-sen’s legacy was revived over the years and added to the pantheon of the Chinese Communist Party. By claiming Sun Yat-sen’s legacy, Beijing wants to deny Taiwan any opportunity of developing an alternate path to an independent Chinese democracy on the neighbouring island.
Taiwan has rejected Beijing’s offer to establish “one country two systems” similar to Hong Kong. “There should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said at the National Day address. Taipei also celebrates 10 October as National Day or “Double Ten Day”.
A new survey shows that 50.2 per cent of respondents in Taipei “don’t think the war was likely”.
A Wall Street Journal article revealed the presence of a “US special-operations unit and a contingent of Marines” in Taiwan for training. The United States troops are helping train Taiwanese forces to deter a potential attack by Beijing.
“About two dozen members of U.S. special-operations and support troops are conducting training for small units of Taiwan’s ground forces,” an official told the WSJ. Pentagon had earlier denied reports about the presence of US troops in Taiwan.
News that China wants to make sure non-state capital is invested in the news media business was also a huge development this week.
A draft document by the National Development and Reform Commission reiterated Beijing’s position to exclude non-state entities from engaging in news media enterprise. The document called Negative List of Market Access (2021 Edition) lists sectors in which private businesses can’t invest.
China in world news
Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, met US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Zurich on 6 October. The closed-door meeting continued for six hours and didn’t receive media attention like the previous meeting in Alaska. The two sides are trying to diffuse tensions over Taiwan and other bilateral issues.
“China has noticed that the U.S. side said it has no intention of containing China’s development and does not seek a ‘new Cold War’,” said Yang Jiechi.
A US official said there was an agreement to hold a virtual bilateral summit between President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping before the end of the year. The news has been widely seen as a relative thaw in US-China relations.
A day earlier, President Biden said he had spoken about Taiwan with Xi in the past, and they had agreed to abide by the “Taiwan agreement”. Following the remarks, there was confusion about which “Taiwan agreement” Biden had mentioned. The White House Press Secretary later clarified Biden’s remarks, “We maintain our commitments, as outlined in the Three Communiqués, Taiwan Relations Act, and the Six Assurances”.
After the remarks by US Trade Representative Katherine Tai at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Chinese Vice Premier Liu spoke to Tai virtually to discuss trade issues. Tai raised the issue of “China’s state-led, non-market policies and practices”, which “hurt American workers”. Liu made a case for lifting US tariffs and sanctions on China. Tai has stated that the US will push China about its unmet conditions set in the trade deal signed by former President Donald Trump. The tariffs are likely to continue if China doesn’t meet its agreed commitments.
There seems to be no reprieve in sight for Beijing on trade tensions with the US. Despite some thaw in the US-China relations, the overall thrust in Washington is towards developing a comprehensive strategy with Beijing in mind.
The US Central Intelligence Agency has officially announced they will establish a new “China Mission Centre”. The proposal to establish a mission centre focused on China was mentioned in August.
What you must read this week
The end of China’s runaway growth – Chang Che
A Woman’s Quest for Motherhood. A Cross-Border Trade in Babies – Du Xinyu and Lam Le
“For Beijing and Washington, risk reduction is difficult for two reasons if one looks into the history of the Cold War. First, during the Cold War, there were separate spheres of influence dominated by Washington and Moscow that allowed them to avoid confrontations. But between China and the United States, there isn’t even a buffer zone,” wrote Zhou Bo, retired Senior Colonel of the People’s Liberation Army.
This week, Chinascope recommends listening to a podcast episode by China Corner Office on how US states help businesses expand in China.
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. 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)