Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Joe Biden spoke over a phone call. China showcased the DF-17 missile test for the first time on People’s Liberation Army Day. The talk of Nancy Pelosi visit to Taiwan is keeping Beijing on its toes. And Beijing is offering Zambia debt relief of $6 billion to avoid another Sri Lanka-like situation. Chinascope brings you the stories that made the top headlines in the past week.
China over the week
A series of events have again led to deterioration in the US-China ties. Things were bad enough for Biden and Xi to speak over the phone. The main reason for the call–Taiwan.
“The position of the Chinese government and Chinese people on the Taiwan issue has been consistent, and it is the firm will of more than 1.4 billion Chinese people to resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Public opinion cannot be violated. If you play with fire you will set yourself on fire. I hope the US side can see this clearly. The US side should abide by the one-China principle and implement the three Sino-US joint communique,” said a readout of the call by the Chinese side.
What’s going on in Taiwan that would make the two sides chat? It was because of Nancy Pelosi’s probable trip to Taiwan, the likelihood of which remains in limbo. But the possibility of a visit has kept Beijing on its toes, though no mention of a visit to Taiwan was made in a press release by Nancy Pelosi’s office issued early on Sunday.
China feels aggravated by such a high-profile visit to Taipei, and that too by Pelosi, considered one of the most hawkish on China within the Democratic party.
Former editor-in-chief of Global Times, Hu Xijin, threatened to shoot down Pelosi’s plane on Twitter. Hu had to delete the tweet and later complained about Twitter’s censorship of his tweets in a post on Weibo.
“The Chinese military will not sit back if US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan,” said a Chinese defence ministry spokesperson. Chinese defence ministry wasn’t bluffing. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has announced a live fire exercise off the coast of Taiwan as a show of force ahead of Nancy Pelosi’s possible visit. The People’s Daily tweeted about the exercise and shared a screenshot of the marine notification about the exercise and the closure of the coastal area near the Taiwan Strait.
Multiple videos showing military equipment, including tanks, being transported to Fujian were shared on Telegram and later on Twitter. Some videos allegedly claimed to show the live fire exercise by the PLA off the coast of Fujian. Certain videos were old, and the authenticity of some of the other videos couldn’t be verified.
The visit has stirred sentiments on Chinese social media. The hashtag “PLA will not sit back and watch if Pelosi visits Taiwan” was viewed 1.72 billion times on Chinese social media platform Weibo. The hashtag “Pelosi will take decisive measures against Taiwan if she visits the mainland” began trending on Weibo on Saturday. The hashtag has been viewed 460 million times. The search term “how will the PLA react to Pelosi’s visit” was the most viewed trend on the Chinese search engine Baidu.
Nancy Pelosi’s visit would be the most high-profile trip by a US official since 1997, when Speaker Newt Gingrich of the US House of Representatives visited Taiwan. The Pelosi visit couldn’t have come at the worst time as China marks its annual PLA Day on 1 August. This year, the PLA will celebrate its 95th anniversary.
Xi Jinping awarded three individuals with the August 1st medal, a medal dedicated to individuals who have made significant contributions to the PLA and the allied military services.
The most significant person to receive the award is Qian Qihu, the creator of the Underground Steel Great Wall, China’s secretive tunnel system to secure China’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) stockpile from nuclear attack. Qian is a respected figure in the PLA, who has been credited for securing China’s second-strike deterrence capability by protecting strategic missile reserve from a first strike by the adversary. The ‘Underground Steel Great Wall’ can allegedly even survive an attack by a hypersonic missile.
To mark the occasion, the China Central Television military channel released a clip showing the first ever publicly advertised launch of the hypersonic DF-17 missile. The missile was shown being launched from a road-mobile transporter erector launcher (TEL). The existence hypersonic DF-17 missile was first revealed to the world during the October 2019 National Day Military parade. The operational range of the DF-17 missile is between 1,800–2,500 kilometres.
A popular Weibo post related to PLA Day caught the attention of many Chinese social media users. “Prepare for war” wrote PLA’s 80th Group Army on Weibo, and the post received 1.8 million likes. Many users quickly linked the post to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Xi Jinping spoke at the Central Conference of the united front work, which was last held in 2015. “It is necessary to strengthen the building of overseas patriotic forces, cultivate and expand the strength of knowledge and friendship between China and the rest of the world, and promote exchanges and mutual learning between Chinese and foreign cultures and civilisations,” said Xi during his address.
The United Front Work Department (UFW), also called the ‘magic weapon’, is a pivotal entity in Beijing’s political influence operations – internally and overseas. Ethnic assimilation in Tibet and Xinjiang is another crucial agenda of UFW.
The United Front activities are going ahead with full steam. On Monday, the China International Communications Group organised an India-China Youth Dialogue in collaboration with Cheena-Bhavana of Visva-Bharati University. Cheena-Bhavana is a centre for China-India cultural studies in West Bengal, established in 1937.
Amid Beijing’s international crisis, there is a crisis at home that is worrying many Chinese families. The housing market’s outlook has plunged rapidly as there are projections of a one-third decline in property sales.
Financial Times has reported that Beijing is planning to mobilise up to $148 billion to support families seeking support because of the stalled property projects. “The People’s Bank of China will initially issue about Rmb200bn of low-interest loans, charging about 1.75 per cent a year to state commercial banks”, reported FT.
The move to issue the bailout comes after families in more than 100 Chinese cities refused to pay their mortgage in a collective protest against unfinished home projects. The current crisis is the long shadow of Evergrande’s financial turmoil last year.
China in world news
China has agreed to offer debt relief to Zambia, making way for a bailout by the International Monetary Fund to save the African nation from sinking deep into a crisis like Sri Lanka.
Zambia currently owes China over $6 billion in loans to build infrastructure projects, including roads, dams, and airports. “The deal is an early sign that China is prepared to coordinate with other official creditors on restructuring the debts of low-income countries, rather than deal with defaults on its loans behind closed doors”, reported Financial Times.
As China’s relations with the US and Europe go through a rough patch, Beijing is looking to refocus its attention on the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and other regional multilateral mechanisms.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi was present at the SCO meeting in Tashkent, along with Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar. It is unclear if Jaishankar and Wang had a bilateral meeting at the SCO, but the meeting discussed the upcoming leader’s summit in Samarkand in September, where Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping could meet face-to-face for the first time since the border stand-off in Ladakh started.
On the tech front, the semiconductor race between the US and China has garnered the attention of keen watchers. The US Congress has moved to keep the US ahead in the semiconductor competition.
The Chip and Science Act, or just CHIPS act, was approved by the members of the House on Thursday with a vote count of 243-187. The $280 billion bill includes a key $52 billion subsidy for US domestic semiconductor companies. Washington has grown concerned about its reliance on Taiwan for the supply of semiconductors
Meanwhile, China is doubling down on becoming self-sufficient in semiconductor technology with the SMIC breakthrough. China’s vision to develop self-sufficiency may appear to be a well-organised campaign but that’s far from true.
Yang Zhengfan, deputy head of an investment division under Sino IC Capital, which manages the state-based investment fund into semiconductors, is being investigated under a graft scandal. Zhao Weiguo, the former head of state-based Tsinghua Unigroup, which specialised in semiconductors, was recently detained. The Tsinghua Unigroup started at the Tsinghua University with deep pockets because of Beijing’s backing. But in 2020, the group found itself in deep financial trouble.
Experts this week
“The purpose is to make Indian manufacturing replace Chinese manufacturing, Indian capital to replace Chinese capital, and to establish the industrial cooperation model of ‘US-West + India’ in the global industry to replace the ‘US-West + China’ model. Some experts even summarize this as the ABC policy (Anything But China), that is, it is easy to talk about everything except China. It can be said that India is carrying out an ‘indiscriminate sentencing’ of Chinese manufacturers and businesses. Under heavy pressure, even some brands could no longer bear the ‘torture’ and chose to withdraw”, wrote a blogger named Coldplay Lab. The article was the 2nd most read article on the Guancha website.
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)