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Did PLA soldiers freeze at the border? Chinese people searched it on Baidu 4 million times

Chinascope — The Week Behind The Wall is everything you need to know about what’s happening in China this week.

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In this week’s Chinascope, we look at the 14th round of India-China border talks, a professor’s views on China’s young generation, Chinese officials getting caught in graft investigation, tensions in the South China Sea, and other major stories from China – and the world.

China over the week

“Chinese soldiers froze to death at the border? Hu Xijin dispels rumours” was among the top five trends in China this week. It was viewed over 4 million times on search engine Baidu. The controversy started after India Today’s Shiv Aroor claimed Chinese soldiers had frozen to death at the Line of Actual Control. Hu Xijin refuted Aroor’s tweet on his personal Weibo account and later also tweeted, saying, “The information spread by people like the executive editor of India Today @ShivAroor days ago is completely a rumour.” 

“It has to be said that the work-style of some Indian media people is not rigorous, and they have created a lot of rumours against China, which is very regrettable,” Hu said in his post on Weibo.

The freezing claim wasn’t the only Indian topic trending in China.

A hashtag “14th round of China-India military commander-level talks” began trending on Weibo last week. It was viewed over 159,000 times. India and China held the 14th round of commander-level talks on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo meeting point on 12 January. There was no breakthrough in the talks but both sides issued a joint statement. 

“The two sides also agreed to consolidate on the previous outcomes and take effective efforts to maintain the security and stability on the ground in the Western Sector including during winter,” said the Chinese version of the joint statement. Adding, “It was also agreed that the next round of the Commanders’ talks should be held at the earliest.”

Also read: War is an instrument of last resort, but India prepared, Army chief says on Ladakh tensions

India isn’t the only country in South Asia facing China’s growing presence at its borders. Bhutan has also faced difficulties dealing with Beijing.

Reuters‘ satellite imagery analysis revealed that Beijing has accelerated the construction of 200 structures in the Bhutanese territory that is considered disputed.

“It is Bhutan’s policy not to talk about boundary issues in the public,” said the country’s foreign ministry. Bhutan has ongoing negotiations with Beijing on the disputed territory. But the details of the negotiations are unknown.

Meanwhile, there have been talks about Chinese superiority complex among younger generations.

Chinese professor Yan Xuetong, considered one of the leading voices on China’s international relations and foreign policy, has now said that China’s next generation have a sense of overconfidence in its power and consider themselves superior to others.

“[They] look at international affairs with a make-believe mindset, thinking it’s very easy for China to achieve its foreign policy goals. They think only China is just and innocent. At the same time, other countries, especially Western countries, are evil and thus have natural hatred towards Westerners,” said Yan Xuetong at a conference on political science.

Yan is one of the saner voices in Chinese public culture and other academics-turned-media personalities don’t often share his views. Two other professors, Jin Canrong and Zhang Weiwei are much more popular than Yan, but they embody the new type of hyper-nationalism that is pervasive on Chinese social media.

The new year has also seen major Chinese officials getting caught up in graft investigations.

Chinese prosecutors officially charged former public security vice-minister Sun Lijun last week. Sun has been charged with accepting large sums in bribes, market manipulation and forming personal “gangs”.

Chinese state media has even produced a documentary series on Sun Lijun, and his four accomplices. Sun was seen confessing to his crime in the special five-episode long TV documentary series.

“Sun Lijun’s political gang case is a typical example of extreme corruption and degeneration intertwined with political and economic problems. Sun Lijun engaged in gangs, formed gangs, cultivated personal power, formed interest groups, and seriously endangered political security,” said a report about the documentary.

On Friday, another top Chinese official vice-chairman of Guangxi Liu Hongwu was detained on suspicion of “serious violations of discipline and the law”. Liu was arrested by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the Communist Party’s top disciplinary watchdog. The CCDI will soon hold its annual work conference.

Also read: What China wants you to know—Covid in Xi’an under control. What it doesn’t—there’s no food

China in world news

African countries have been some of the most enthusiastic recipients of China’s developmental aid. Lending by Chinese banks constitutes one-fifth of lending to the entire African continent. But China is finding it difficult to sustain the lending practices in the African continent.

“China is moving away from this high-volume, high-risk paradigm into one where deals are struck on their merit, at a smaller and more manageable scale than before,” says a forthcoming report by UK think tank Chatham House.

The concerns about China’s lending practices have remerged after details of the terms Uganda signed on to for a loan were published in the local newspaper Daily Monitor.

Chinese donations are also being scrutinised.

In an unprecedented move, British domestic intelligence agency MI5 issued a warning notice about interference by an alleged Chinese agent, Christine Ching Kui Lee. The UK security services suggest that Christine Lee gave Labour MP Barry Gardiner donations.

This past week, the South China Sea was in the news too, bringing the dispute to attention as Taiwan Strait has taken precedence in recent months.

Japanese media reported that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force warship sailed close to the China-controlled Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. According to the Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri, the operation was termed a freedom of navigation operation to “deter China”.

The US State Department released a study titled “Limits in the Seas” on the South China Sea claims. The study refuted China’s claims by saying, “PRC asserts unlawful maritime claims in most of the South China Sea, including an unlawful historic rights claim.”

The US last published an analysis challenging China’s so-called “nine-dash line” in 2014. In 2016, China lost The South China Sea Arbitration brought up by the Philippines over the South China Sea claims. China hasn’t implemented claims settled by the arbitration court in the Netherlands in 2016.

If the South China Sea tensions weren’t heightened enough, the US sent an aircraft carrier group to the area where Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong was seen. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, landing helicopter dock USS Essex, destroyer USS Michael Murphy, and other ships were sent. China’s Shandong was seen during an exercise in the areas on 5 January.

Also read: China’s Pangong Tso bridge can’t be countered with panic or polemic

What you must read this week

Internal Drivers of China’s External Behaviour – Shivshankar Menon

China Is Watching Ukraine With a Lot of Interest – Michael Schuman

What Should the Left Do About China? – David Klion

Experts this week

“This fear of the ‘whip of god from Asia’ is deeply ingrained into the DNA of Westerners, and it is awakened from time to time by new Asian powerhouses, such as the westward expedition of Genghis Khan and his descendants. The racist fear, the sexual anxiety on the real level, and the doomsday worry on the spiritual level, the fear that the light of the Western gods will be swallowed up by the dark forces of the Eastern pagans, is the so-called yellow peril in the first place,” said a commentator in the Chinese website Observer who calls himself “Kris”. These types of views are popular in China nowadays.

Aadil Brar 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)

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