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Covid rising in China, but Xi busy colluding with Russia against US—and looking at Taiwan

Premier Li Keqiang stepped down, Shanghai and Jilin are going under lockdown due to the Covid surge, but Xi has other issues on his mind.

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Chinese premier Li Keqiang announced he’s stepping down, and a major Chinese city is under lockdown because of the latest surge in Covid cases. China likely lost a military aircraft in the South China Sea. Chinascope brings you the stories that were on people’s minds this week.

China over the week

Li Keqiang steps down

Premier Li Keqiang holds the second-most powerful office in the Chinese Communist Party. His relationship with President Xi Jinping has been subject to speculation and intrigue.

This past week at the National People’s Congress, Li announced that he would step down as premier by next March. Unlike previous Chinese premiers, Li made the announcement without much fanfare. In the past, premiers Wen Jiabao and Zhu Rongji have made strong speeches during their last public addresses.

Instead, Li tried to present his empathetic side by denouncing the abduction and trafficking of women and children in China. At the press conference following the NPC session, he said, “Those who disregard the rights and interests of the masses must be firmly held accountable, and those criminal acts of abducting and selling women and children must be severely cracked down and punished severely. The protection of the people’s safety and the improvement of the people’s livelihood are inseparable.”

‘Li Keqiang denounced the abduction and trafficking of women and children’ was the top trend on WeChat.

The premier is on his way out of elite Chinese politics, but Xi is here to stay for a long time.

The discussion at the NCP may have largely focused on economic issues, but Chinese leaders have also discussed the decline of the West.

“It could help facilitate the trend of ‘the East rises, the West declines’ and could help our country shape a new global order and improve our international environment,” said Qi Yu, the CCP’s lead at the Chinese foreign ministry.

A Chinese military leader also revealed his thoughts on the recent geopolitical events.

“Against the backdrop of the decline of the West and the rise of the East, the confrontation between major powers is unprecedented, and we need to focus on responding to containment and suppression from the outside,” said Wei Fenghe, Chinese Minister of Defence.

Covid cases rise

Meanwhile, China is witnessing a surge of Covid cases last seen during the 2020 lockdown.

The Chinese mainland has reported 1,807 new locally transmitted cases of Covid, according to the National Health Commission. Xinhua News Agency reported, “1,412 were reported in Jilin, 175 in Shandong, 62 in Guangdong, 39 in Shaanxi, 33 in Hebei, 23 in Jiangsu, and 17 in Tianjin.” The province of Jilin is the centre of the latest surge.

Changchun, the capital of the Jilin province, was put under lockdown. The city is home to 9 million residents. The megacity of Shanghai has been asked to shut down its schools, and people were encouraged to work from home.

Russia, China and the birds

Not to forget Russia. In what came as first-of-its-kind coordination between Russia and China, the countries were seen colluding on a disinformation campaign.

Russia made a claim at the United Nations that Ukraine and the US will use the migratory birds as a bioweapon to spread pathogens. Chinese diplomats and State media repeated the claim across the different social media platforms.

Lost at sea

On 6 March, Vietnamese journalist Duan Dang claimed that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lost a military aircraft. The surprise drills launched close to Vietnam attempted to recover the aircraft.

Now, the National Security Bureau (NSB), Taiwan’s primary intelligence agency, has confirmed that a Chinese military aircraft crashed in the South China Sea in March.

“Beijing had promptly launched a search and rescue mission to recover the downed aircraft,” Focus Taiwan reported, citing NSB Director-General Chen Ming-tong’s statement at the National Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Taiwan believes that Beijing intends to take advantage of the Russia-Ukraine war, the NSB said in its report.

The intelligence agency has published its analysis of the potential impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on Beijing’s actions towards Taipei.

The NSB report said that Beijing would also use cyber warfare and public opinion tactics to create divisions within Taiwan.

More talks with India

As the Russia-Ukraine war gripped the world’s attention, India and China tried to resolve their border stand-off at the 15th round of border talks on 11 March. The latest round of talks didn’t result in a breakthrough. They took place at the Chushul-Moldo meeting point on the Indian side of the border.

“The two sides had a frank and in-depth exchange of views in accordance with the guidance of the leaders of the two countries on resolving the remaining issues as soon as possible. The two sides reiterated that the settlement of the remaining issues will help restore peace and tranquillity in the western sector of the LAC and promote the development of bilateral relations. During this period, the two sides agreed to maintain the security and stability of the front line in the western sector. The two sides agreed to maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels to reach a mutually acceptable solution as soon as possible,” said the statement issued by the Chinese Ministry of National Defence.

A new report by threat intelligence organisation Insikt Group has revealed the extent of the PLA’s hiring and inclusion of a “new-type” of militia. We do have some evidence for the training of the militia-like groups in Tibet, but the report has helped to link PLA’s overall approach with militia recruitment to other regions of China as well. The report mentions, “These new-type militias are equipped to enhance aerial reconnaissance, intelligence collection, rescue operations, countermeasure actions and stability maintenance.”

The “new-type militia” aren’t just a ragtag B-team of PLA but rather highly educated and trained civilians who can be asked to join various missions.

“New-type militia forces are largely established by recruiting well-educated, higher-skill professionals from China’s civilian economy under the MCF strategic framework,” the report added.

In 2021, China amended the Military Service Law, which has allowed the swift recruitment of non-commissioned officers who could form the “new type militia”. The PLA conducted two recruitment drives in 2021 in a break from the past.

In Tibet, the militia recruitment is likely done by ethnic Tibetans to enhance the PLA terrain and linguistic capabilities in a challenging operating climate.


Also read: China’s defence spending grabs attention, but question is, will Beijing mediate in Ukraine


China in world news

The hypothesis about China’s role in supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been rife. But William Burns, the Central Intelligence Agency’s boss, shared his assessment on how much Beijing knew.

At the annual House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing, Burns said, “I do think …. that they have been surprised and unsettled to some extent by what they’ve seen in Ukraine over the last 12 days, everything from the strength of the Western reaction to the way in which Ukrainians have fiercely resisted.”

What you must read this week

Wang Jixian: A Voice from The Other China, but in Odessa — Geremie R. Barmé

A Chinese Student’s Escape From War-Torn Ukraine — Xu Shijie

Confucius and the Whistleblower — Peter Wei


Also read: Europe is living through not just one, but three wars. Xi Jinping’s China will be key


Experts this week

Bai Guangcan, an India watcher, and Zhang Zhengyang, Member of the South Asia Research Group, wrote, “The new constitution promulgated in 2015 stipulates that Nepal follows the UN Charter, pursues a non-aligned policy, and implements an independent foreign policy on the premise of safeguarding the country’s overall interests.

A scholar from the Kathmandu Institute of International Relations and Diplomacy pointed out in a study comparing the Belt and Road Initiative and the MCC Agreement that the Belt and Road Initiative focuses on economic cooperation and has no military or strategic purpose, so it does not prejudice the principles of Nepalese diplomacy. On the other hand, the MCC agreement is based on security and ideological cooperation. It uses unequal terms to create various political problems, which infiltrate and influence the decision-making of the Nepalese government, and points out the huge potential risks that the agreement may have on Nepal.”

Podworld

Evan Feigenbaum previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs under Condoleeza Rice. He spoke to SupChina’s Kaiser Kuo about ‘China’s Ukraine conundrum’. 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 Humra Laeeq)

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