In this week’s Chinascope, we look at the Joe Biden-Xi Jinping summit, China’s strategic bomber near India’s border, an alleged Chinese village inside Arunachal Pradesh, the missing Chinese tennis star, and other stories that are buzzing in China – and the world.
China over the week
In a widely watched virtual summit last week, President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping shared their views on disputes between the two countries. Though there was no real breakthrough during the summit, Xi Jinping struck a conciliatory tone. The virtual summit was the first time both leaders spoke at length since Biden took office.
“The earth is large enough to accommodate China and the United States for their own and common development. We must insist on mutual benefit, not play zero-sum games, and not engage you in winning or losing,” the Chinese president said.
A development that went unnoticed during this time was the simultaneous release of nationals held in each other’s country. The US sent seven Chinese nationals back to China, and a US national named Daniel Hsu was allowed to return home just days before the summit. The whole swap had a very Cold War-like ring to it. The signs of détente quickly dissipated as China’s ambassador in Washington DC criticised the US for its “rules-based world order”.
Before the summit, Chinese vice-minister and senior diplomat Yang Jiechi told US national security advisor Jake Sullivan that Xi wanted to ensure stability for him ahead of the National Party Congress meeting in late 2022. Xi Jinping is prepping himself for a stronger role and legacy.
Chinascope recently explained the significance of a historic resolution passed at the Plenum meeting last week. It highlighted Xi’s central role and placed him at par with Mao and Deng. The much discussed text of the historic resolution that elevated Xi’s status has now been published.
The resolution also contributes a whole section to national security.
“China is facing a severe national security situation, with unprecedented external pressure, traditional security threats and non-traditional security threats are intertwined, ‘black swan’ and ‘gray rhino’ events occur from time to time,” Xi Jinping was quoted in the resolution document as saying.
Chen Wenqing, Minister of State Security – head of China’s spy agency – said in response to the Plenum that people should “discard illusions, prepare to fight” and “dare to struggle and be good at struggling” to protect China’s sovereignty and national security, according to South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Xi Jinping’s brand of muscular sovereignty continues to shape even after the Plenum meeting.
On 18 November, Xinhua reported that Xi Jinping presided over a meeting of the politburo to review the new national security document (2021-2025).
“We must uphold the party’s absolute leadership, improve a centralized, unified, efficient and authoritative leadership system for national security work, and achieve the unity of political security, people’s security, and the supremacy of national interests; insist on safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and maintain the stability borders and surrounding areas,” said the press release of the Politburo meeting.
China’s activities at the border with India remain as aggressive as ever.
Open-source analysis based on a broadcast by China’s CCTV suggests that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) flew an H-6K strategic bomber close to the border with India. Experts told SCMP the H-6Ks were stationed at Kashgar since last year, which are usually based in Shaanxi. H-6K is a long-range strategic bomber that is said to carry CJ-10A both with conventional and nuclear warheads.
“It’s very easy for the PLA to fly H-6Ks to the China-India border because the aircraft are stationed…under the Western Theatre Command,” a Beijing-based military source told SCMP.
The strongman stance is directed inward too.
China has a history of detaining its most influential intellectuals and artists whenever they go against the party.
Now, an internationally acclaimed Chinese tennis star has gone missing after her MeToo allegations against a former senior Chinese politician named Zhang Gaoli. Chinascope told you about the nature of the allegation in the past. Peng Shuai’s disappearance has sparked a campaign among leading tennis stars and sports associations as they seek answers about her whereabouts. Tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka, and other players have tweeted with the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai.
Chinese state media published a screenshot of an email sent to the World Tennis Association chairman Steve Simon supposedly from Peng. It said, “I am not missing, nor am I unsafe”, adding the sexual assault allegations were also untrue. The screenshot raised further questions about the well-being of Peng.
“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai wrote the email we received or believed what is being attributed to her. Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government,” said Steve Simon in a statement.
The whole saga has taken a bizarre turn as State media continues to produce unconvincing evidence about Peng’s safety. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, shared screenshots of Peng’s WeChat moments, including her undated images with soft toys. On Saturday, a video of Peng with her coach was shared on social media, showing her having a meal with him and a group of people. The board containing the date when the video was shot was censored – among other inconsistencies – and has sparked further debate about Peng’s safety.
International media and Beijing are currently playing the second set of tennis in the Peng saga.
On Sunday, Peng allegedly ‘appeared’ at a youth tennis event in Beijing. The video was shared on Weibo without Peng’s name, and later, Chinese State media journalists shared the video on Twitter.
Peng Shuai’s allegation and recent news about her disappearance have been censored on Chinese social media.
China in the world news
The recent Pentagon revelation about alleged Chinese villages in Arunachal Pradesh has been on all news channels in India.
And now, NDTV‘s Vishnu Som claims to have discovered – citing satellite images – another cluster of 60 buildings by China inside Arunachal Pradesh.
“The second enclave lies approximately 6 kilometers within India in the region between the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the International Boundary. India has always claimed this as its own territory. The images do not offer any clarity on whether the enclave is occupied,” wrote Som in an article.
It is unclear if the facility built by China is a civilian village or for military use.
In the past, experts have argued that rhetoric about China’s growing military presence worldwide is exaggerated. But a new Chinese military facility in UAE confirms Xi’s ambition of a global military footprint.
US intelligence agencies have discovered that China was secretly building a military facility at the Khalifa Port in the United Arab Emirates, sources told Wall Street Journal. Classified satellite imagery by US intelligence agencies revealed a Chinese construction of a military installation at the port. US NSA Jake Sullivan raised concerns about the facility with Emirati officials. The construction at the facility appears to have stopped for now.
Germany’s China policy has shaped European Union’s outlook towards Beijing. But if there were faults in it? German Chancellor Angela Merkel has acknowledged for the first time that her policy towards China may have been “naïve.”
“Maybe initially we were rather too naive in our approach to some cooperation partnerships,” Merkel told Reuters in an exclusive interview.
Merkel is preparing to step down as the Chancellor. There is no clear successor in sight yet. But whoever takes over from Merkel is unlikely to continue her brand of China policy.
What you must read this week
Xi Jinping’s Terrifying New China – Michael Schuman
Why Is China Building Up Its Nuclear Arsenal? – Tong Zhao
India in China
A Chinese vlogger named Xiao Chen, who has a vlog on Weibo called “Xiao Chen in India”, made a video of her visit to The Raintree Hotel at Anna Salai, Tamil Nadu. The video was viewed over 16,000 times on Weibo and people discussed her experience staying at a hotel in India.
Xiao Chen regularly makes videos about her travel across India.
Experts this week
“The bloody conflict in the Galwan Valley and the standoff at Lake Pangong Tso in 2020 pushed the two countries’ relations to the bottom, and the Sino-Indian cooperation has continuously weakened by the escalation of India’s confrontational mentality toward China. At the same time, the political decisions by the two countries are deeply influenced by the US, which has pulled India closer in recent years, further aggravating the complexity of Sino-Indian relations. It can be said that China-India relations are ushering in a period of strategic setback,” wrote Professor Men Honghua and Professor Wang Ting, both of Tonji University.
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 Neera Majumdar)