Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Introducing the Ta for Ta Podcast

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GIF by Jia Guo. View pronunciation video from Jia.

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Dear reader,

First, we’re looking for photos, and we want your help! Do you have any photos of China that you’d like to show the world? If so, please send them to — we’ll publish the best ones regularly in our daily newsletter.

Second, something to think about: After the Great Airpocalypse of Beijing in 2014, many of us wondered why the bad air in Indian cities received so little media attention, despite comparable levels of pollution. That seems to have changed: India now seems to be the place that generates this type of headline: Delhi 'lungs' turn sickly brown in days.

Without further ado, we have seven pieces at the top for you and a boatload of links below.

If you want to complain about anything we do, or send us flowers, just reply to this email.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

1. Is China meddling in Taiwan’s elections?

“Taiwan’s government accuses China of meddling in elections” is the headline of a piece by longtime Taiwan resident Chris Taylor in Asia Times.

  • “I am here in D.C. to talk about China’s influence on our elections. They are playing the same game, like the Russians in Crimea,” a Taiwanese presidential adviser told Taylor, who notes that his comments “come amid allegations China has been funding fake news and opposition candidates to the governing, pro-independence leaning Democratic Progressive Party.”
  • There are long-held suspicions in Taiwan “that China is far less likely to attempt to invade the island, which would be logistically difficult and could potentially spark a far wider regional conflict, than it is to attempt to buy the island,” says Taylor.
  • “The key to the strategy is two-fold,” according to J Michael Cole, a respected Taiwan commentator cited by Taylor: “First, flooding Taiwan’s economy with Chinese investment and second, ensuring that a greater number of Chinese are in positions of authority on the island.”
  • In October, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau announced that it was “currently investigating 33 cases of suspected Chinese funding of various candidates in the November 24 elections, with evidence that the money is coming directly from the Chinese government.” According to the bureau, the funds were “funneled to candidates favored by Beijing via Taiwanese business people with operations in China.”

See also: China's 'troll factory' targeting Taiwan with disinformation prior to election on Taiwan News.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

2. Trade war, day 131: China hawk says there may be ‘outlines of a deal’

In another sign of a potential thaw in relations, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall) that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his Chinese counterpart, Vice Premier Liú Hè 刘鹤, had a phone conversation last Friday.

  • The U.S. wants to see a “concrete” offer from Beijing before any talks on a trade deal commence, while the Chinese side fears that doing so will put it in a weaker negotiating position, according to official sources.
  • While the Mnuchin-Liu chat didn’t result in any progress on that stalemate, “the renewed discussions indicate the two sides are trying to reach an accommodation, the officials say.”
  • “There is a consistency in the (Chinese) messages that can be seen by optimists as the outlines of a deal,” Michael Pillsbury, American Director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, told the WSJ. “But it’s not an offer.”
  • Michael Pillsbury, it should be noted, is the author of the paranoid tome The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, and one of the éminences grises behind the Trump administration’s hostile attitude to China. He’s not a panda hugger.
  • The next step is for Liu to travel to Washington. According to the South China Morning Post, he will soon make a trip that was originally planned for September, but canceled amid the escalation in trade tensions. No schedule has been set yet, but it’s expected ahead of the Xi-Trump meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina around the end of this month.
  • Markets reacted warmly to the news: Reuters says: Asian shares pare losses on U.S.-China trade optimism, oil slides; Bloomberg reports: U.S. Index futures rise with European stocks on trade optimism (porous paywall); the Wall Street Journal notes: Copper climbs on hopes for U.S.-China trade thaw (paywall).

But a key question concerns the bigger landscape in which the trade war is playing out:

  • Is Mr. Trump’s trade battle with China really about trade, or about geopolitical rivalry?” asks James Mackintosh in the WSJ (paywall). “Much follows for investors. If it is about trade, a deal is possible, and Mr. Trump’s track record suggests it is fairly likely. If it is about containing China, it may be time to hunker down in preparation for a new cold war.”
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in Asia this week, reflected the broader, and more worrying, view. In an interview with Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin (paywall), Pence said that “Trump is leaving the door open for a deal with Xi in Argentina, but only if Beijing is willing to make massive changes that the United States is demanding in its economic, military and political activities. The vice president said this is China’s best (if not last) chance to avoid a cold-war scenario with the United States.”

Click through to SupChina for the complete trade war news roundup.

—Sky Canaves

3. Buying time in the South China Sea

“China hopes to complete talks on South China Sea code of conduct in 3 years,” says Xinhua News Agency. China security scholar M. Taylor Fravel tweeted an explanation:

Li Keqiang suggests in Singapore that a Code of Conduct [CoC] for the South China Sea will take another three years to complete (after agreeing upon a single draft in August).

Clearly, the process of negotiating, and of having a process, is more important than achieving a code to address the many issues in the area. In other words, the talks are more of a journey than a destination. On the one hand, the South China Sea contains the world’s most complicated disputes, with conflicting claims to sovereignty over land features as well as jurisdiction over maritime zones. The interests of ASEAN states are not necessarily fully aligned.

On the other hand, the talks are aimed only at how to manage the disputes, not to resolve the underlying claims. Moreover, they can draw on many existing approaches in the maritime domain, such as the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea.

China has been able to negotiate the final resolution of many territorial disputes on its land border (often quickly) as well as bilateral border CBMs [coordinated border management agreements] with India and multilateral ones with Russian and some Central Asian states.

So, the CoC talks are about creating a diplomatic process and buying time, to lower tensions in the short term but without addressing the real issues that could spark another round of escalation.

See also:

4. Global Times: ‘News flash! CNN sues Trump!’

Today, Chinese central state media all prominently feature versions of a story about Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 calling for “confidence and resolve” in pursuing reform and opening up (English, Chinese).

However, the Global Times has spiced up its Chinese website with a prominently featured story titled “News flash! CNN sues Trump!” The story is a fairly accurate retelling of Trump’s cancellation of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House credentials, including several screenshots from Twitter, which is, of course, blocked in China.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

5. Is modern tai chi a fraud?

In an essay titled Behind the scenes at the Longquan monastery (in Chinese), Wú Yú 吴余 examines the background of the Venerable Xuecheng (释学诚 Shì Xuéchéng), former abbot of the Beijing Longquan Temple, who was removed from his post amid allegations of sexual assault more than three months ago.

While many people see Xuecheng’s fall as a sign of the #MeToo movement reaching the monasteries in China, author Wu Yu argues that “putting aside his modest contributions to Buddhism, Xuecheng’s story is essentially a common tale of an ambitious government official who transcends the economic circumstances of his birth using his intelligence and ability. But he eventually gets ousted because of his long-term despicable behavior.”

In another article skeptical of traditional Chinese culture, Mǎ Yuánxī 马元西 considers the second humiliating defeat in a public fight of a tai chi master, and asks if modern tai chi is simply a “fraud.”

Please click through to Chinese Corner, our weekly review of creative journalism, for reviews of the above and these articles:

  • How much effort will Chinese people make just to have a son?
  • Bi Zhifei takes “the worst film on earth” to court.

—Jiayun Feng

6. Chinese in South Africa

The Chinese community in South Africa is one of the oldest and largest in Africa. But even though the history of Chinese migrants in the country dates back to the 1800s, most people in South Africa still know very little about this population. In this China Africa Podcast, Barry van Wyk of the Africa-China Reporting Project at the University of Witwatersrand talks about the “quiet community” of Chinese spread throughout South Africa.

One of the issues raised in the podcast is the opening of “Chinese Community and Police Cooperation Centers” around South Africa. These are a collaboration between local Chinese community organizations and the South African police, with the support of the Chinese Embassy. For more on this topic, see Folks concerned after China opens 13th police station in South Africa in the Atlanta Black Star.

7. The languages of the Himalayas

Linguists Gerald Roche and Lauren Gawne have published an article titled The geopolitics of language in the Himalayas in The Diplomat. Excerpt:

The Himalayas are a global center for linguistic diversity. Setting out from Beijing or Delhi, the number of languages rises with altitude, conforming to global patterns that see linguistic diversity increasing in rough, mountainous terrain. This diversity is not neatly patterned: state, ethnicity, and language are not correlated. Knowing where someone lives or what identity they profess does not tell us what languages they speak.

Read the whole thing!

—Jeremy Goldkorn


SupChina has partnered up with a group of media and travel outlets to provide a special sweepstakes through the end of this month. It is an email sweepstakes with a big prize: free roundtrip BUSINESS CLASS tickets to Hong Kong (worth $7,500), cash, and lodging. Click the image below for more information!



Viral on Weibo: Street collapse swallows woman in Lanzhou

A surveillance camera captured a terrifying moment when a woman fell into a hole in Lanzhou, in northwestern China's Gansu Province, on November 11.


ChinaEconTalk: How Chinese Firms Succeed and Fail at Internationalizing (Featuring Bytedance)

What is Bytedance and how does it make its money? How do politics and culture get in the way of Chinese firms' internationalization efforts? What can Chinese phones in China and electric buses in LA teach us about localization challenges? Elliott Zaagman, co-host of TechNode's China Tech Investor podcast, takes on these issues for the latest episode of ChinaEconTalk.

Subscribe to ChinaEconTalk on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, or Stitcher, or plug the RSS feed straight into your favorite podcast app.

Today’s news elsewhere on the web:



  • Xinjiang internment camps ?
    Opinion: China's mass incarceration of Muslims cannot be left unchallenged / Guardian
    Scholar Timothy Grose writes: “Despite appalling abuses of the Uyghur people, the world remains quiet. We must unite to voice our outrage.”
    Ex-detainee describes torture in China's Xinjiang re-education camp / NPR
    Chinese citizen Kayrat Samarkand, now in Kazakhstan, “says he was detained in a Chinese re-education camp in his home region of Xinjiang for months. He says he was tortured and finally released after trying to kill himself.”
  • Beijing response to outcry over Xinjiang
    China tells world to ignore 'gossip' about Xinjiang / Reuters
    “The world should ignore ‘gossip’ about China's Xinjiang region and trust authorities there, the government's top diplomat said on Tuesday, when asked if Beijing would allow international observers to inspect camps holding Muslims there.”
    Xinjiang shows its chill / China Daily
    State media continues to promote tourism to Xinjiang. This article says, “Travel to the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is set to continue heating up this winter, as new events, policies and routes make it a hotter destination during the colder months. Over 130 tourism activities will be staged from October 14 through March at a winter-tourism festival in the region.”
  • Missiles
    Chinese missiles would violate international nuclear arms treaty – NATO chief / SCMP
    “NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has voiced concern about Chinese as well as Russian medium-range missiles and urged Beijing to join an international nuclear arms control treaty.
    ‘We see that China is investing heavily in new, modern weapons, including new missiles… And half of their missiles would violate the INF treaty if China were a signatory,’ he said, referring to the 1987 nuclear weapons control accord that US President Donald Trump last month threatened to quit.”
  • Australian ambivalence
    Australia’s Prime Minister ‘surprised’ by state’s secret deal with China / NYT (porous paywall)
    “The state of Victoria signed on with China’s Belt and Road initiative at a time when intelligence officials are concerned about Beijing’s influence. Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, said it was not ‘cooperative or helpful’ for the state of Victoria to sign an agreement with China without his government’s knowledge.”
  • An Indonesian hedge
    Indonesia seeks Saudi cash as alternative to 'aggressive' China: Widodo ally / SCMP
    “Indonesia is courting investment by Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states to reduce the country’s reliance on China, a senior member of President Joko Widodo’s reelection campaign said.”
  • Chinese military in Africa
    China’s security footprint in Africa: Towards an evolution of the application of its non-interference principle? / Asia Dialogue
    Benjamin Barton writes: “China’s security footprint on the African continent has undergone considerable change in the years since President Xi Jinping’s ascent to power. Indeed, up until 2013, China remained an external actor in the African security domain whose approach could, for the most part, best be described as passive, inert or favoring the status quo…”
  • Press freedom in Taiwan
    Press freedom reason for opening office in Taipei: Deutsche Welle / Focus Taiwan
    “Germany's public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) opened an office in Taipei last month — its first office in East Asia — because of the high level of press freedom in Taiwan, according to DW Chinese Service chief Philipp Bilsky…
    …In addition to Taipei, he went on, DW has been trying for a long time to open an office in the Beijing. ‘However, this has been denied by the Chinese authorities so far,’ Bilsky said, adding that ‘DW's content is blocked by censorship in China.’”
  • Corruption
    China’s new inconvenient truth: How much lottery money corrupt officials stole / SCMP



Climbing the singing sand dunes

A group of tourists climb Mingsha Shan (鸣沙山 míng shā shān), or Echoing-Sand Mountain, in Dunhuang, Gansu Province. The sand produces sounds like singing when wind blows over it, hence, the mountain’s poetic name.

Jia Guo

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