From China’s “new era and new thought” propaganda campaign to Russian President Vladamir Putin’s visit ahead of the Winter Olympics, Chinascope brings you the major stories from and about China last week in the news.
China over the week
Chinese think tanks have, in the past, surprised the world by publishing bold predictions such as falling birth rate and slowing economic growth. But this month, the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University has pulled a report that suggested China will suffer if it decouples from the United States. The report had said: “In the future, China can narrow its gap with the US in more technological areas and China can achieve ‘self-sufficiency’ in some core technologies, but it remains a long way off before China comprehensively surpasses the US.”
The 7,600-character-long report was pulled from the WeChat account of the think tank. A copy of the report was later made available by the US-China Perception Monitor.
According to the South China Morning Post, China has been wary of this threat for a long time. The news article mentions previous attempts by organisations to warn China about the consequences of its tech war with the US. It said: “a Chinese state think tank last month listed ‘targeted decoupling of supply chains’ as one of the top 10 global risks for China in 2022, along with mutations of the Covid-19 virus, underlining how serious the issue is viewed by top scholars in the country.”
No matter what the outcome of the US-China tech war is, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still has enough resources to be subtly present in its citizens’ lives. It’s a phenomenon with a long history going back to Mao Zedong. Education and training about the Party’s ideology can appear in most bizarre contexts. Most recently, this is being done through ‘centres for political thought’ as revealed by the online magazine ChinaFile. The centres provide education and propaganda training on the party’s theory, history, cultural education, and the overall behaviour expected from every Chinese citizen.
Jessica Batke, a Senior Editor at ChinaFile, wrote about the existence of a campaign in China’s villages and major urban areas called the “new era and new thought”. The ‘New Era Civilization Practice Centre began appearing in 2018 as a pilot project in 50 counties. “And in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, the local government claimed in October, there were nearly 3,000 centres in its downtown district alone — or one every half-kilometre,” she wrote.
In Guizhou province, the focus of these centres is to “forge mass solidarity, guide the masses, inculcate a correct cultural disposition in individuals, improve social mores, and adjust people’s behaviour”.
The ChinaFile story, however, is not the only investigative report creating a buzz about China. A news story was published by independent Australian journalist Anthony Klan about an alleged report by a group of unnamed “researchers” has been just as widely discussed.
Klan’s news media venture Klaxon published a story about a report claiming that 38 People’s Liberation Army soldiers had perished on the night of the India-China Galwan Valley clash. The story claims that China tried hard to keep the narrative on the death of PLA soldiers under tight control. Wang Zhuoran, among the 38, was the only soldier acknowledged dead by China.
This isn’t the first time Klaxon has cited unnamed sources for making major claims about India-China relations. In 2020, Klaxon cited unnamed “intelligence sources” while claiming in an exclusive report that China and Pakistan had reached a deal to develop an “anthrax-like” pathogen that can be used against India and their Western foes.
The claims in the Klaxon report have provided little evidence for the claim of 38 PLA deaths and hinges on the reputation of “unnamed researchers”.
Talking about the PLA and Galwan valley clash, the news of Qi Fabao, a Chinese regimental commander, carrying the torch during the relay ceremony at the Beijing Winter Olympic Park also has the world talking. Qi is one of the PLA Xinjiang commanders who were present in Galwan Valley during the June 2020 clash with the Indian Army.
Qi’s presence in the ceremony was quickly criticised not only by India, but also by the United States. In India, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was quick to react to the politicisation of the games. It was announced that India’s top diplomat in Beijing, currently the Chargé d’affaires, Dr Acquino Vimal, will not attend the Winter Olympics events.
Chinese bloggers cited the top reason for selecting Qi Fabao to carry the torch as “patriotism and nationalism.”
The hashtag “The head of frontier heroes Qi Fabao passes the Winter Olympic torch” was viewed over 6.2 million times on the Twitter-like Chinese social media platform Weibo. Qi has also been described on Chinese social media as a “guardian hero”, based on the title of “The hero of defending the country and defending the frontier”, issued by the Central Military Commission in February 2021.
The other military figure, who was also part of the ceremony, is Jing Haipeng, major general of the People’s Liberation Army ground force and an astronaut.
While the war of narrative building between India and China continued, there was another controversy involving the Olympic torch that captured the people’s attention. The selection of Uyghur skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang as the final torchbearer at the opening ceremony came as a surprise to many. Dinigeer’s appearance was compared with Helen Mayer’s half-Jewish fencer appearance at the 1936 Summer Olympics by Rayhan Asat, an Uyghur rights activist. Asat’s brother is among the one million Uyghur Muslims currently imprisoned in Xinjiang.
Although India imposed a diplomatic boycott on the Winter Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin did make the highly anticipated visit to Beijing before the games began. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin held a bilateral meeting to signal the depth of their strategic partnership.
A lengthy joint statement was issued following the meeting: “The two sides reiterated that they firmly support each other’s core interests, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and oppose external interference in the internal affairs of the two countries. The Russian side reiterated that it abides by the one-China principle, recognises that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, and opposes any form of ‘Taiwan independence’”.
Chinese State media Xinhua News Agency published a signed article by President Putin titled “Russia and China: A Future-Oriented Strategic Partnership”.
In the article, Putin wrote: “One of Russia’s strategic objectives is to accelerate Siberia’s social and economic development and the Russian Far East. These territories are in the immediate neighbourhood of China. We also intend to actively develop sub-national cooperation”.
China in world news
Wall Street maverick, George Soros, has a new warning about China. Soros has called Xi “the greatest threat that open societies face today”. He also warned about investing in China and other challenges emerging from Xi’s leadership.
Soros published an op-ed with the title “China’s challenges”, which was widely discussed among China watchers and investors. “It is to be hoped that Xi may be replaced by someone less repressive at home and more peaceful abroad. This would remove the greatest threat that open societies face today. Their task is to do everything within their power to encourage China to move in the desired direction,” wrote George Soros in Project Syndicate.
Meanwhile, Yun Sun, one of the leading experts, has a prediction to offer about China’s foreign policy direction. In her paper “The International Affairs Narrative in the Party History Study and Education Campaign” for the Centre for Advanced China Research, Yun says that “China is unlikely to reverse its current assertive approach to foreign policy and perceives any attempt of a compromise as a hostile move.”
“Citing historical lessons and the Chinese Communist Party’s long abundant experience with struggle, Xi has painted a picture of long-term threats to the national security of China and the regime security of the CCP. The direction this points to is a strategy in which China will have to maintain its current assertive and even aggressive stance on foreign policy, as the hope for a “peaceful life” is designated a delusion” wrote Yun Sun.
The idea of China’s “peaceful rise” is a popular phrase used by experts and academics – and Chinese leaders themselves to (too) argue that China’s economic miracle was achieved in a largely peaceful fashion. China’s new assertiveness on the international stage has been noticed worldwide. But Yun argues that Xi may be hinting that maintaining the peaceful rise trajectory is “delusional” and that assertive behaviour is the new approach.
Meanwhile, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has banned China’s mobile network provider Unicom from carrying out its services. FCC has asked Unicom to stop providing mobile services immediately by notifying its customers. “The protection of national security is an integral part of the Commission’s mission,” said the FCC notification on the Unicom decision.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray said the scale of Chinese spying in the US ‘blew him away’: “The scale of their hacking program, and the amount of personal and corporate data that their hackers have stolen, is greater than every other country combined,” said Wray in an interview with NBC News.
What you must read this week
Can China Ever Reopen? – Timothy McLaughlin
Safeguards for Xi’s Stratospheric Rise – David Bandurski
The China-Russia relations are still shrouded in mystery and subject to intrigue. Centre for Strategic and International Studies’ ChinaPower Podcast interviewed Dr Joseph Torigian on the current state of China-Russia relations and how they are navigating their strategic partnership. Chinascope recommends listening to the conversation.
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 Srinjoy Dey)