China watchers speculate about tensions between President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Technocrats are making a return under Xi. China and Pakistan look to renew relations under team Shehbaz Sharif. China may sign a new security deal with Kiribati — Chinascope brings you stories from China, and the world, as they changed our world last week.
China over the week
Making sense of Chinese politics by reading between the lines is a craft China watchers have honed through trial and error. But the approach comes with its own pitfalls.
This past week the China watcher community was rife with speculation about Xi Jinping’s fading presence from the pages of the party newspaper, the People’s Daily. Experts argued, citing Xi’s absence from the front page of the newspaper, that his economic and Covid policies were facing backlash from the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Instead, Premier Li Keqiang’s 8,000-word speech at the fifth State Council’s clean government work conference on 25 April was published in full on the second page of the People’s Daily.
But China Media Project took a long-term view to contextualise Xi’s relative absence from the front page of the newspaper and forecast any coming change to the leadership structure. It’s difficult to forecast a political system designed to be opaque by default.
“Despite reports of an ‘unusual reduction’ there would be 20 front pages without Xi Jinping in 2018, the year following the 19th National Congress of the CCP. And still the centre held. Xi’s power, and the cult of personality surrounding him, only grew” wrote David Bandurski of China Media Project.
No one is arguing against the growing evidence for Li Keqiang’s increased media mentions, signalling some approval for his policies. But there is no evidence that Li has the party’s support to challenge Xi more directly.
Xi’s disappearance from the People’s Daily for a few days doesn’t spell the end of his tight grip on the CCP.
With the change of government in Pakistan, China is trying to ensure continuity of their bilateral relationship.
Premier Li Keqiang spoke to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif over a phone call on 16 May.
“China is shocked and outraged by the recent attack on Chinese citizens in Karachi and strongly condemns this terrorist attack. It is hoped that the Pakistani side will bring the murderers to justice as soon as possible, make every effort to deal with the aftermath, and comfort the relatives of the victims and the injured” Li is known to have told Sharif during the phone call.
On Sunday, new Pakistan foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari met Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Guangzhou during the former’s first visit to China in the new role.
Bhutto’s visit marks 71 years of China-Pakistan bilateral relationship. “The two sides will deeply align their respective development strategies, further unleash the potential of economic cooperation, and advance the construction of the CPEC,” said the readout of the meeting in Guangzhou.
Unlike Mao’s era, the Chinese Communist Leaders and their families have considerable ties with the outside world. But now, the party wants to block promotions for those officials whose spouses and children hold assets abroad.
An internal Communist Party directive may soon bar senior officials from promotion if their families directly or indirectly have real estate assets abroad or own shares in a company. The move is seen as Xi’s attempt to set the stage for the 20th Party Congress later this year.
The leadership shakedown, most likely excluding Xi, will transform the party hierarchy across the Central Committee. Xi also wants more technocrats in charge of top party posts.
According to MacroPolo, a think tank of the Paulson Institute, there has been a steady return of technocrats in party posts which had declined under Hu Jintao. Technocrats are professionals with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) training and carry a largely apolitical approach to problem-solving. Xi is likely to make a further push for technocrats within the Central Committee of the CCP.
Nowadays, there is limited interaction between the US and Chinese officials as tensions in the various domains are running high. Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, spoke with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan over a phone call.
“The U.S. side has repeatedly made clear that it pursues the one-China policy and does not support ‘Taiwan independence’. However, the actual actions and statements of the U.S. side on the Taiwan issue have differed greatly in recent times. If the U.S. side insists on playing the ‘Taiwan card’ and goes further and further down the wrong path, it will certainly lead the situation to a dangerous place” said Yang in the readout of the phone call.
Yang’s message to Sullivan wasn’t exactly subtle.
“China will take firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests, and we will do what we say!” said Yang. Sullivan has indicated that president Joe Biden could speak to Xi in the coming days.
The call may have resulted from China trying to read Washington DC’s mind. The US State Department recently updated its fact sheet on US’ relations with Taiwan. Though the one-China principle appears to be an updated version, the US repeated its long-held Taiwan policy that it follows its own version of one-China principle based on the Taiwan Relations Act.
The mystery surrounding the sudden crash of China Eastern Airlines plane MU5735 has further deepened with a new revelation by Wall Street Journal. The Journal reported, citing US officials, that someone intentionally crashed the flight from the cockpit. The preliminary assessment by the US officials comes after no mechanical failures were discovered to explain the vertical descent and ultimate crash into the mountains.
Xi’s anti-graft campaign keeps rolling ahead with no end in sight.
Sun Guofeng, former head of the monetary policy department of the People’s Bank of China, was detained for “serious violations of discipline and the law” – which usually means corruption charges.
China in world news
Chinascope recently told you about official guidance by the CCP Central Committee and the State Council on expediting the infrastructure construction along China’s border regions. ThePrint reported the construction of a bigger bridge across Pangong Tso Lake this week, which could carry armoured columns when completed.
China hasn’t officially commented on the story but a Netease blogger with 1,67,788 followers commented on ThePrint report saying “Whether it is the Doklam standoff or the Galwan Valley, the Modi government pursues the so-called ‘forward policy’ of encroaching on China. In recent years, India has made great efforts to build land in the border areas, build roads and bridges, and extend them to the line of actual control”.
Canada has now decided to ban the telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE from the 5G.
Canada has asked telecom companies to stop purchasing 4G and 5G equipment by September of this year and remove existing 4G equipment by December 2027. On Thursday, Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced the exclusion of Huawei and ZTE, but the decision has yet to be approved by an amendment to the Telecommunications Act, which hasn’t been tabled in parliament so far.
“Without any solid evidence, the Canadian side cited unwarranted security risks as a pretext to exclude relevant Chinese companies from its market. This move violates principles of the market economy and free trade rules, and severely harms the Chinese companies’ legitimate rights and interests. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to it,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
Once Quad was a vision for Asia’s security conceived by Tokyo but now the leader of grouping is meeting in the Japanese capital for the first time.
According to Financial Times, the gathered leaders may announce a new maritime initiative targeted at curtailing China’s illegal fishing. Sources speaking on anonymity have alleged that China represents 95 per cent of the illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific.
“The system will allow the US and its partners to monitor illegal fishing even when fishing boats have turned off the transponders typically used to track maritime vessels”, reported Financial Times.
The official leader’s meeting is set for 24 May 2022.
China-Solomon Islands security agreement was signed just over two weeks ago. But now, China is discussing a security deal with Kiribati, another Pacific Island nation, according to Financial Times.
Must read this week
Is Beijing Changing Tack on Big Tech? – Chinafile
Is Studying Overseas Losing Its Allure for Chinese Students? – Zhu Jingyi and Ni Dandan
Enhancing Strategic Stability in Southern Asia – USIP Senior Study Group
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.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)