A mysterious fighter aircraft with a foreigner inside fell from the sky. A video compilation has become a headache for China’s internet censors. India cancels tourist visas for Chinese travellers. Chinascope brings you the untold stories from China from the past week.
China over the week
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s jockeying for the unprecedented third term as General Secretary started late last year, but he took another step to secure the position this past week. He was ‘elected’ as a representative to the 20th Party Congress in Guangxi at a meeting in Nanning. The whole process may appear to be largely symbolic, but being elected to the Party Congress doesn’t necessarily secure Xi’s place as the next General Secretary.
Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said, “This may not mean that his election as the General Secretary is 100 per cent certain, but it is a very firm step.” In 2012, Hu Jintao was elected as a delegate to the 18th Party Congress, but he couldn’t secure the General Secretary role.
But there is no clear successor to Xi, which makes his quest to secure the next term likely to be successful. His campaign to put corrupt Chinese officials behind bars – with the support of his peer Zhao Leji – is going ahead with full steam.
Bad time for officials in China
On Friday, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said that the former president and chief executive of China Merchants Bank, Tian Huiyu, was under investigation. Earlier in the week, Tian was removed by the bank’s board from his position.
Last September, Xi Jinping launched a round of inspections into China’s largest State-owned financial institutions and investment funds over their lending practices. Being an accomplished and influential official in China can get you into trouble nowadays.
A mysterious aircraft fell from the sky in the Anhui province, and videos of the crash were shared widely on Chinese social media. It was identified as an L-15 Falcon trainer fighter jet (also known as the JL-10). Some have speculated the location to be the Henan province instead.
Two training fighter pilots were seen in the video, and one of them appeared to have an “Eastern European appearance”. Some Chinese social media users commented that the pilot was Russian. Hongdu L-15 Falcon is a supersonic advanced jet trainer used for various training activities. The social media users speculated the aircraft belonged to the Fourth Regiment of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The fighter jet has a Russian connection. Russia’s Yakovlev Design Bureau helped in the manufacturing of the L-15 jet.
Training a non-Chinese pilot – most likely a Russian – at the height of the Russia-Ukraine war has started various speculations about coordination between the two armies.
Also read: Wang Yi’s India visit was China trying to return to diplomatic status quo, says MIT prof Fravel
Censorship drive continues
Chinascope recently told you about the growing censorship of the voices criticising the censorship in China. Now a video compilation of complaints about the Covid pandemic response in Shanghai titled ‘Voices of April’ was shared hundreds and thousands of times on Chinese social media app WeChat, and the censoring authorities had to use their long arm to delete each post. People in Shanghai posted the video upside down to evade the censors, but they were deleted as well.
The censorship instruction issued by the Xi government to social media platforms and media organisations was leaked on social media.
“All platforms, please refer to [attached] examples and perform a comprehensive clean-up of video, screenshots, and other content related to ‘Voices of April’. At the same time, clean up any derivative images. Please submit preliminary clean-up data by 12:30 am on April 23. Maintain continuous cleanup and submit additional data by 7:00 am on the 23rd,” said the instruction about deleting the ‘Voices of April’ video.
Later, users shared the “Do You Hear the People Sing?” song from Les Miserables (2012), first shared during the Hong Kong protest movement in 2020.
Also read: First, Beijing failed to prevent Covid in Shanghai. Now, it’s struggling to censor criticism
China in world news
The world may have slowly started to forget the fate of Hong Kong after Beijing fundamentally transformed the city’s autonomy with the national security law. Now, Louisa Lim, former Hong Kong correspondent for the BBC and NPR, has told the story of the “Unofficials” who were “industrialists, bankers and lawyers appointed as unofficial members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or Executive Council,” advising the UK government about the terms of the handover to Beijing.
The “Unofficials” were worried that there was a clear timeline for democracy to take root in Hong Kong or ensure China would comply with the agreement. Lim reveals that the Margaret Thatcher government was desperate to find a way out of Hong Kong.
Since 2020, China has blocked access for Indian students and tourists following the Galwan clash, but New Delhi kept the door open to Chinese tourists.
But now, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that tourist visas issued to Chinese nationals “are no longer valid”. The announcement was made as part of the regular updates to airlines on which nationals are to fly to which countries under the e-visa scheme.
India has demanded that China allow its students to return to the mainland, reiterated during Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to New Delhi last month. But Beijing has mostly given the cold shoulder to the request, as it has allowed students from Thailand, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to return, leaving Indian students in limbo.
In December 2019, a laboratory worker at Vision Medicals in Guangzhou was alarmed about the samples of a 65-year-old patient suffering from a pneumonia-like respiratory ailment. She wrote to her colleague to raise the signal about the similarity of the virus detected in the sample with the 2002 SARS virus.
The story of her WeChat conversation with a colleague has been revealed by The Washington Post in an op-ed by its editorial board. The conversation was reported by Caixin News in 2020, only to be deleted later on. The op-ed pointed out that the Chinese government didn’t issue any alert despite all the evidence for human-to-human transmission of the virus.
The editorial board further stated, “Her story points to a coverup with tragic consequences of historic proportion. A severe danger was concealed until it was too late. It came about because of a culture that prioritises political stability at any cost, extraordinary state secrecy, and missteps by public health officials who did not speak out.”
Growing closer to Solomon Islands
Chinascope recently told you about a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands. Now, the two countries have officially formalised the agreement. Wang Yi and Jeremiah Manele have signed the agreement in “recent days”, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
The agreement has left Washington DC and Canberra unnerved, as China’s plan to set up a permanent military base in the Solomon Islands looks very real. Li Ming, the Chinese ambassador to the Solomon Islands, has said that its actions were to protect infrastructure projects China built in the island nation. The US has been left to respond to the development.
US Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell flew to the Solomon Islands and met Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to increase its diplomatic efforts. The US has announced that it will expedite the embassy’s opening in the capital Honiara.
Also read: Why China’s attitude to Russia’s war is lukewarm, at best
SupChina’s Kaiser Kuo spoke to assistant professor Marina Rudyak at the University of Heidelberg about China-EU relations and the former’s influence in the Global South. China’s ties with the EU were upward despite the tensions resulting from the Covid pandemic. But Beijing’s inability to understand the EU’s perspective on Ukraine may have changed that, according to Rudyak. 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.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)