Chinascope — The Week Behind The Wall is a weekly round-up about China that digs into the minds of China’s leaders, scholars, thinkers, business tycoons and Chinese people. Your weekly power-packed curation about China – and the world.
China over the week
Over the past week, Chinese regulators have shifted their focus to the gaming industry from the regulation of algorithms used by social media companies. Chinascope discussed Beijing’s attempt to control algorithms in the last edition.
China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Communist Party’s Publicity Department, National Press and Publication Administration, and one other agency invited gaming giants, including Tencent and NetEase for a meeting. The Chinese regulators want gaming companies to improve content moderation, including content that promoted “money-worship and effeminacy”, according to Xinhua News Agency. The announcement is a continuation of a theme that we saw with the crackdown on “sissy idols”, which was mentioned in the last edition of Chinascope.
The regulators added the companies should reduce the “solitary focus of pursuing profit”.
The South China Morning Post reported citing sources that Chinese regulators have asked companies to “temporarily slowed their approvals of new online games”. We may witness further regulatory action on the gaming industry in the coming days.
Meanwhile, amidst rumours that there has been a blacklisting of celebrities with dual and foreign citizenship in line with China’s new policy on celebrity culture, some are already queuing up to renounce it.
The Kris Wu saga and his detention after an alleged sexual assault fueled rumours about his foreign passport being the primary reason for his troubles with Beijing. Other celebrities with foreign citizenship want to avoid Wu’s fate.
Hong Kong-based celebrities like Nicholas Tse, who has Canadian dual citizenship, and Maria Cordero, who holds Portuguese citizenship, have already announced their intentions of renouncing their foreign citizenship. The hashtag “Nicholas Tse withdraws his Canadian citizenship” was viewed over 490 million times and was a top trend on Weibo.
Recently, Simu Liu, the lead star of Marvel’s Shang-Chi, also sparked a nationalist backlash after his 2017 interview about his upbringing in China with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation surfaced on Weibo.
Read: Xi Jinping’s crackdown on everything is remaking Chinese society – Washington Post
China is also cracking down on the use of the English language, while increasingly using multiple languages, including English, and platforms in its ‘disinformation campaign’.
New York Times columnist Li Yuan wrote, “Now, English has become one of the signs of suspicious foreign influence, a fear nurtured by nationalist propaganda that has only worsened in tone since the outbreak of the coronavirus. As a result, China’s links to the outside world are being severed one by one”.
However, FireEye, a threat assessment firm, has observed increased pro-Beijing activity “on 30 social media platforms and over 40 additional websites and niche forums, and in additional languages including Russian, German, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese”.
The pro-People’s Republic of China social media activity research is restricted to English and Chinese language sources. But FireEye has revealed a sprawling network of pro-PRC online activity in other languages.
Read: Worsening India-China ties take a toll on Mandarin’s growth – Money Control
The Chinese government might be cracking down on celebrities and foreign languages, but a new book hopes to unravel the entangled world of high corruption in the country.
Desmond Shum is a Shanghai-born business tycoon who developed the largest air cargo logistics facility in China before his family ran into trouble with China’s political elites. Whitney Duan, Desmond Shum’s wife, a well-known dealmaker to Beijing elites, disappeared into China’s vast detention system without any known reason.
Shum has written a book to highlight his family’s story which caught the attention of Western media. Just before the book was to be released Shum’s wife called him from an unknown location and told him not to publish the book.
Shum’s new book Red Roulette tells the story of insider politics and corruption by Chinese leaders and elites. “If you’re investing in China right now, you’re not playing a game that you understand. The game has changed completely,” Shum told Bloomberg in an interview.
In another decision this week, with major implications for India, Xi Jinping has promoted Wang Haijiang to the rank of commander of the Western Theatre Command – adjacent to India’s border with Tibet.
The Central Military Commission promoted five officers to the rank of general in a ceremony presided by Xi Jinping. This second such promotion ceremony since 5 July.
Wang Haijiang, who reportedly served as the commander of Xinjiang Military District until recently, was promoted to the rank of commander of the Western Theatre Command. Wang is the 4th commander of Western Theater Command appointed in 10 months.
Following the military promotions, China has also carried out an unannounced military exercise in its Inner Mongolia region with very little media attention. There are rumours which suggest the exercise was kept a secret to “implement reforms”.
According to China Central Television, about 200 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commanders from theatres and regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet participated in “Leap-2021 Zhurihe A” at Zhurihe base in Inner Mongolia. The last such large gathering was held during the 2018 training session in Korla, according to SCMP. The military exercise wasn’t prominently advertised on PLA’s website, unlike other exercises, which surprised many military watchers. A military affairs commentator named Wang Shichun has also claimed the level of secrecy around the “leap series” of the exercise was to “implement military reforms”.
China in world news
At a time when White House officials are debating opening an investigation into China’s industrial subsidies, as reported by Financial Times, President Xi Jinping spoke to United States President Joe Biden over a call on Friday, 10 September.
The two presidents spoke for the second time since Biden took office earlier in 2021. Biden requested a call with President Xi after the Chinese officials appeared “unwilling to engage in serious or substantive conversations”, according to Financial Times.
“There is no way out of the mountain, and there is a village in the dark,” Xi Jinping is said to have quoted a Song Dynasty poem during the call.
Biden’s call with Xi is unlikely to lead to a détente. Washington may allow Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the US to change its name from “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office” to “Taiwan Representative Office”. Beijing won’t be pleased with the name change.
“The Biden team also has yet to resolve disagreements among officials over key facets of China policy,” reported the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, Hungary-born American billionaire investor and founder of Open Society Foundations George Soros rebuked asset management firm BlackRock for “pouring billion” into China and risking US national security. However, BlackRock seemed unmoved by Soros’ rebuke as the firm raised $1 billion from its first China mutual fund. Before the integral US-China talks, Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the 13th BRICS Summit via video link on Thursday, 9 September. India chaired the meeting and passed the chair to China for the 14th BRICS summit in 2022. Here is the full text of Xi Jinping’s speech (in Chinese) at BRICS. On the same day, Xi Jinping also spoke to German chancellor Angela Merkel on the phone, according to People’s Daily.
“The EU-China Investment Agreement is mutually beneficial and win-win for both EU and China, and I hope that it can be successfully approved and entered into force as soon as possible,” Merkel is said to have told Xi, according to the readout of the call by China.
Continuing the drive to improve international relations within Asia, Chinese state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi met Vietnam’s General Secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, during his visit to Hanoi. Wang Yi told an official during his visit that Vietnam should avoid magnifying South China Sea disputes.
In this section, Chinascope recommends some of the excellent articles that dig deep into the most recent news coming out of China.
How China Weaponised the Press – Timothy McLaughlin
China and Big Tech: Xi’s blueprint for a digital dictatorship – James Kynge and Sun Yu
China Is Hedging Its Bets in Myanmar – Lucas Myers
Experts this week
“If we take Afghanistan as a case study, the 20 years since 9/11 is not a ‘cycle’ in US’s foreign policy. These 20 years can be understood as a “period of strategic squandering” of American hegemony. This “strategic squandering” can be understood as a hegemonic country taking certain actions with its software and hardware resources without clear strategic guidance. At a micro tactical level, it may appear orderly, exquisite and even well-designed, but it is a state of aimless action at the strategic level,” wrote Shen Yi, professor at the Department of International Politics, Fudan University.
India in China
The most discussed story from India in China over the past week was Ford Motor’s decision to end the production of vehicles in India. The hashtag “Ford withdraws from Indian production line” was a leading trend on Weibo. State-owned CCTV produced a news segment highlighting Ford’s decision.
China’s economic vows could grow multifold because of Evergrande Real Estate Group’s large debt, read New York Times’ story on a scale of the debt problem. Evergrande has $300 billion in debt which has left behind a series of unfinished residential housing projects across China.
For this week, Chinascope recommends listening to a conversation between The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda and Shannon Tiezzi on Biden Administration and US-China Relations in 2021.
And, do listen to a very engaging interview with Wenchi Yu of Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center produced by the National Committee on United States-China Relations.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi will meet his South Korean counterparty Chung Eui-Yong during a visit to Seoul on 14 September. On 17 September, the 20th summit of the leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation will commence in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
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 will write about what’s buzzing in China. This will soon be available as a subscribers’-only product.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)