Beijing published a white paper on the ‘Taiwan question’. Bangladesh’s foreign minister has flashed a warning about the Belt and Road Initiative loans from China. A group of Indian businessmen flew to Zhejiang on a chartered flight. A new account of the Galwan clash is slated to be published soon. Chinascope tells you about the stories from and about China that you may have missed this week.
China over the week
Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council issued a new white paper on Wednesday titled The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era.
So, what’s the big deal about issuing a white paper? Reuters picked up on an interesting omission in the latest one. The 1993 and 2000 Taiwan white papers had a pledge that Beijing “will not send troops or administrative personnel to be based in Taiwan,” which seems to have disappeared from the new white paper issued earlier this week.
Though the omission is noteworthy, it doesn’t mean Beijing is preparing for a full-scale invasion of Taiwan in the future. The use of the military option remains the “last resort” even in the latest white paper. “Non-peaceful means will be taken as a last resort, the last choice,” says the latest white paper highlighting the peaceful means of reunification with Taiwan. In Beijing’s calculus, the casus belli for military conflict will be triggered when Taiwan attempts to declare independence, which has been its long-standing position.
Despite Beijing’s rhetoric on Taiwan remaining broadly consistent with its past public statements, recent joint military exercises have raised doubts about Zhongnanhai’s pledge to avoid using military force.
Last week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) war-gamed the scenarios of Beijing’s invasion of Taiwan. “Probably the biggest [takeaway] is, under most assumptions, the United States and Taiwan can conduct a successful defence of the island. That’s different from many people’s impressions,” said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at CSIS.
The war game included a US intervention in support of Taiwan, resulting in Taipei successfully defending itself from an invasion. Despite using all its most advanced military technology, Beijing was only able to take one-third of Taiwan, according to the findings of the war game exercise at CSIS.
On Wednesday, Colonel Shi Yi, the spokesperson of the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army, announced the completion of joint military operations around Taiwan. But military training activity nearby is likely to continue. “The theatre troops will keep an eye on changes in the situation in the Taiwan Strait, continue to conduct military training and preparations, regularly organise combat readiness patrols in the Taiwan Strait, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Col Shi.
On Thursday, Taiwan’s defence ministry reported spotting 13 People’s Liberation Army naval vessels and 39 PLA aircraft surrounding Taiwan despite Eastern Theatre Command announcing the completion of the military exercises.
Oriana Skylar Mastro, Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, believes China’s new military capabilities surpass that of the US in certain areas.
“Now China’s armed forces are comparable to America’s in quality and quantity. Most of its platforms are modern (of the latest technology for the relevant domain) and boast the world’s largest navy. In some areas, Chinese military capabilities already surpass America’s—in shipbuilding, land-based conventional ballistic and cruise missiles, and integrated air-defence systems,” writes Mastro in The Economist.
Meanwhile, life in Taiwan seems completely undisrupted under the shadow of China’s threat. Taiwanese diplomats are trying to tell their side of the story. “Well, you know, we have been living under threat from China for decades. And we cannot let their ongoing threats define our desire to make friends internationally. If you have a kid being bullied at school, you don’t say you don’t go to school. You try to find a way to deal with the bully,” said Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s ambassador to the US.
Also Read: Chinese response to border stand-off with India is to construct more highways along LAC
China recently allowed some foreign nationals, including Indian citizens, with family ties in the mainland to re-enter the country for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic started. But a group of Indian businessmen have jumped through all the hoops to travel to China.
The group chartered China Southern Airlines flight CZ5256 from Delhi to Hangzhou to bypass the hurdle of limited and costly flight options, China Daily has reported. Individuals travelling to China have faced difficulties because of sky-high flight prices, flight cancellations and suspensions, which can last weeks.
The 107 businessmen from India will mostly engage in business activity in the town of Yiwu in Zhejiang province, known as the “small commodities capital of the world”.
The news even trended on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. The hashtag “The country’s first business charter plane from India to China takes off” trended on Weibo.
The travel arrangements for the businesspeople were supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Civil Aviation Administration, Zhejiang Provincial Department of Commerce, and the Yiwu Municipal Bureau of Commerce. The story shows how the business ties between India and China run deep, and business communities from both countries engage on a sub-national level.
The trade deficit between India and China for 2021-22 rose to $72.9 billion from $44 billion in the previous year.
Meanwhile, almost 20,000 Indian students enrolled in medical programs in China haven’t been able to return because of travel restrictions.
As tourism bounced back in Tibet, the Covid-19 cases have again surged in the capital Lhasa and the second biggest city Shigatse. Lhasa city launched city-wide testing after 18 positive cases were reported. Entertainment venues, religious sites, and tourist attractions like Potala Palace have been shut down because of Covid-19. But transportation in and out of Lhasa and Shigatse appears to be operating as usual.
Also Read: Chinese nationalists ask Beijing how come Pelosi plane to Taiwan wasn’t shot down
China in world news
After Sri Lanka’s dire economic collapse, all eyes have been fixated on other South Asian countries—including Bangladesh. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Dhaka on Monday and met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“China is willing to enhance the dovetailing of the Belt and Road Initiative with Bangladesh’s Vision 2041, share development experiences and advanced technologies, and deepen cooperation in infrastructure, digital economy, green development and clean energy,” said Wang Yi during his visit.
But not everything is going great in China-Bangladesh relations.
“Everybody is blaming China. China cannot disagree. It’s their responsibility,” said Bangladesh’s finance minister, Mustafa Kamal, “Whatever the situation [that] is going on worldwide, everybody will be thinking twice to agree to this project.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, rumours of Xi Jinping’s potential visit to Saudi Arabia were reported by The Guardian without citing any sources. But the Chinese foreign ministry told Reuters they had “no information to offer at the moment” about the report on Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
The visit might be in the works as the Chinese foreign ministry didn’t deny if a visit was being considered. If Xi does visit Saudi Arabia, that would be his first foreign trip since 2020. Xi’s last visit to a foreign country was in January 2020, when he went to Myanmar on a state visit.
Speaking about things that happened in 2020, Rahul Singh of Hindustan Times and Shiv Aroor of India Today have published a new account of the 15 June Galwan clash in their latest book India’s Most Fearless 3.
The two authors report the account of an Indian Army medic named Naik Deepak Singh, who saved the lives of wounded Chinese soldiers yet was killed by the PLA. The book is scheduled to be released on 15 August.
Also Read: India prepares for late-night military talks with China, and Beijing glams up Galwan survivor
Must read this week
Road to nowhere: China’s Belt and Road Initiative at tipping point — Adnan Aamir, Marwaan Macan-Markar, Shaun Turton and Cissy Zhou
2022, Xi Jinping’s Annus Horribilis: Or is it? — Chris Johnson
Interactive infographic of China’s political players — South China Morning Post
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with a 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)