In this week’s Chinascope, we look at a MeToo scandal involving one of the most senior Chinese leaders, Yahoo search leaving China, State media accusing an Indian hacking group of cyber-attacks, and other stories from China – and the world.
China over the week
What happens when one of China’s top leaders, one who helped Xi Jinping rise, is accused of sexual assault, that too before a crucial Communist Party meeting? A tennis star’s social media post has taken the country by storm.
This past week, MeToo allegations by tennis star Peng Shuai against former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli shook Chinese social media. The news was heavily censored across different Chinese social media platforms. Peng Shuai wrote a detailed post in a private group on WeChat, later shared in various WeChat groups. Peng summarised the allegations in a post on Weibo – it disappeared just a few hours after it was posted. The original long post couldn’t be found or shared on WeChat. Even use of the word ‘tennis’ was censored. The screenshots of the allegations were shared in some closed Chinese messaging groups and were widely circulated on Twitter.
According to the allegations, Peng said Zhang invited her to play tennis with him and his wife, and he assaulted her in his house. Zhang Gaoli was the Senior Vice-Premier of China between 2013 and 2018, and was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee between 2012-17.
Chinese overseas media and international media primarily reported the news about the MeToo scandal. Chinascope recommends reading ‘Censors go nuclear as tennis player’s MeToo allegations against top officials go viral‘ by Jeremy Goldkorn and Jiayun Feng.
In other news, Beijing has grown wary of foreign agencies trying to access its data. China has decided to ban access to Flightradar24, a real-time commercial aircraft flight-tracking service that provides equipment to volunteers to collect aviation data. A Chinese national security agency in 2020 discovered that a citizen with the surname Li had signed up to receive the equipment from Flightradar24 and track aircraft.
CCTV reported that Beijing Municipal National Security Bureau found data-sharing poses a security threat to military aircraft. It added that security agencies seized the equipment given to volunteers by Flightradar24. Chinascope recently told you that China’s Ministry of State Security declassified an investigation into the theft of Chinese airlines’ data by a foreign spy agency. It is unclear if the Flightradar24 case and that are related.
The tough Chinese regulations and surveillance are also making it hard for other companies to work. US companies in China are finding it particularly difficult. Last week, China’s new personal data protection law came into effect, requiring private companies to hire data compliance officers.
Now, Yahoo has decided to exit the Chinese market and shutter the company’s remaining services. The company blamed “increasingly challenging business and legal environment in China” for its decision. The move is largely symbolic because the company had already stopped offering most of its services in China since 2013. Yahoo’s exit coincided with the data protection law coming into effect and may have pushed the US internet giant out of China.
The tough business environment isn’t just reserved for foreign companies. Xi Jinping’s China has been cracking down on Chinese businesses too. So, China’s entrepreneurs are looking for ways to cash out.
Zhang Yiming, the ByteDance founder, has officially stepped down from the company’s board after an announcement in May 2021. ByteDance owns the popular platform TikTok. South China Morning Post reported citing sources that Zhang remains “powerful behind the scenes”. The CEOs of technology companies have been trying to cash out their shares in anticipation of tightening controls. Financial Times recently reported that at least two heads of Chinese tutoring companies started selling their shares right after Xi Jinping criticised private tutoring earlier in March.
And in case you thought there is a stalemate at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), think again. The tensions between India and China aren’t just limited to the border anymore, and have crossed over to the cyber domain.
Chinese State media accused an Indian hacking group called ‘Evil Flower’ of targeting “government, defence and military units, as well as state-owned enterprises in China, Pakistan, and Nepal”. Global Times has claimed in an investigation that the hacking group has the support of the Indian government.
“Their attacks were largely on the rise in the first half of 2021, targeting education, government, aerospace and defence industries in many fields. Those attacks were especially aimed at organizations or individuals mentioned in online trending topics on politics and economy, the pandemic situation and industrial activities,” Chinese technology company 360 Security Technology told Global Times.
In the Chinese report, the hacking group was also referred to as “rattlesnake”.
Bloomberg reported, citing sources, of a potential acquisition of South China Morning Post by State-owned Bauhinia Culture (Hong Kong) Holdings Ltd. Alibaba group, which owns the media house, has denied the report of sale.
“Any reports suggesting that Alibaba is considering a sale of SCMP are incorrect, Alibaba is fully committed to SCMP’s mission and business goals, and there are no plans for an ownership change,” a spokesperson of Alibaba group said.
China in world news
China’s grand military plan was the talk of defence and strategy experts last week.
On 3 November, the US Department of Defense published its annual China Military Power report. The report says China is fast expanding its nuclear arsenal and may deploy 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030. International media extensively covered the report.
One of the key revelations in the report is the People’s Liberation Army modernisation plan for 2027. By that date, the PLA can provide Beijing with a credible military option during a “Taiwan contingency”.
The report adds that China is building a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that will improve its nuclear-capable missile forces. We already know from analysis by open-source researchers that China is building ICBM silos. According to the report, DF-41s are likely candidates for the deployment at the silos that have been made so far.
What you must read this week
T-Day: The Battle for Taiwan – David Lague and Maryanne Murray
The Third Road: Where Will Xi Jinping Go in 2022? – Ling Li
India in China
A report by the Chinese State media outlet The Paper on India’s Agni-V missile was viewed over 260,000 times on Weibo. The report was originally published by CCTV and carried comments by Chinese missile technology expert Yang Chengjun.
On Sunday, new images of a clash between the Indian Army and China’s PLA during the 2020 border tensions were leaked on Weibo. Netizens used the images to attack the Indian Army for crossing into “Chinese territory”. “Some soldiers squatted, some squatted fully, and some put their hands together and raised their heads with separate heels,” said a Weibo user.
Chinese social media users also discussed the events in Arunachal Pradesh at the Chumi Gyatse waterfall site, which is also referred to as Dongzhang in Chinese. It is a holy Buddhist site and the Indian Army and government plan to develop it for tourism. Some Weibo users asked why China hasn’t recovered the waterfall from India and suggested occupying the region.
Experts this week
“First, Taiwan can’t cross the red line of fighting militarily, and it is impossible for Taiwan to declare ‘independence’ proactively. Second, based on the mainland’s development, it is necessary to resolve the dialectical relationship between the reunification of the motherland and the building of a strong country. If Taiwan has not been recovered by 2049, it is difficult for us to say that we have completed the construction of a powerful country, because the territory has not been completely reunified; if Taiwan is recovered prematurely, China’s development will be passive, and opportunities in the international community will be missed. This makes reunification interfere with development,” wrote Shen Yi, Professor at the Department of International Politics at Fudan University.
For this week, Chinascope recommends listening to a podcast episode that looks at the worldview of senior Chinese leader Wang Huning. Wang is behind Xi Jinping’s vital ideological campaigns and has helped Xi create the personal brand of ideology also known as ‘Xi Jinping thought’.
On 8 November, the Chinese Communist Party will kick off a closed-door session called the Plenum. The session will last for four days and will be attended by the full and alternate members of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
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 Neera Majumdar)