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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 email@example.com — 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.
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—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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!