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This week: Trump signs bill supporting Hong Kong protesters; TikTok’s censorship problem; Are you working with a Chinese defense university?; Beijing district CDC director spreads homophobia for World AIDS Day; Job applicant from Henan wins discrimination suit.
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Monday, December 2, 2019

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1. Trump signs bill supporting Hong Kong protesters

Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Despite his best efforts, U.S. President Donald Trump has not been able to ignore the Hong Kong protests as he desperately seeks a trade deal with China.

  • In June, Trump promised his Chinese counterpart, Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, that he would be quiet on Hong Kong as long as trade talks continued. The Financial Times and CNN both confirmed this.
  • Trump showed deference to Xi in a rambling interview on Fox & Friends two weeks ago, in which he said that “we have to stand with Hong Kong but I’m also standing with President Xi.” He also called Xi a “friend of mine” and “an incredible guy.”
  • Trump also claimed, absurdly, that Beijing had not ordered a military crackdown in Hong Kong “only because” of ongoing trade negotiations. (People who actually know what they’re talking about say Beijing knows a military crackdown is not in its best interest.)

But last week, Trump’s hand was forced by the U.S. Congress, which passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 (HKHRDA) unanimously in the Senate, and nearly unanimously in the House of Representatives. Trump signed the veto-proof bill into law on November 27, and also signed a second measure that “bars the sale of tear gas and rubber bullets to the Hong Kong police,” according to CNBC.

The HKHRDA “orders an annual review to check if Hong Kong has enough autonomy to justify special trading status with the U.S.,” among other provisions, according to the BBC.

China fumed at the news, and issued several harsh statements and retaliatory actions:

  • The Foreign Ministry blasted the law as a “stark hegemonic practice, and…a severe interference in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs.”
  • China banned U.S. military vessels from visiting Hong Kong, and the Foreign Ministry stated, “As for how long the suspension will last, it depends on how the U.S. acts.”
  • Five American NGOs were sanctioned by China: The National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House. The Foreign Ministry claimed, without citing evidence, that they are “much to blame for the chaos in Hong Kong.”

Catch up on the context for the protests in Hong Kong with our explainer: What do the Hong Kong protesters want?

Look ahead at what’s next in the city’s politics: How Hong Kong’s pan-democrats can capitalize on their election wins.


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2. TikTok’s censorship problem

Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

As we noted last week, TikTok, the hottest social media app among teens in America, is increasingly finding itself in hot water for its connections to its Beijing-based parent company, Bytedance. Company executives are insisting that they would never censor for China or share data with Chinese authorities.

The case of a 17-year-old American Muslim girl, Feroza Aziz, has made TikTok’s problems much worse.

  • Aziz posted a video, cleverly disguised as a makeup tutorial on “how to get long lashes,” that quickly transitioned into a PSA about China’s human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region.
  • “Use your phone that you’re using right now to search up what’s happening in China, how they’re getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there,” Aziz urged her viewers.
  • The video had amassed half a million likes by the time Aziz found her account suspended, for unclear reasons.
  • Her account was later restored, but not before major newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post had reported on the incident.
  • The video quickly went viral on other platforms like Twitter, where it can still be viewed.

Is it too late for TikTok to save itself?

Bytedance is now seeking to “ringfence its TikTok app” so that it can run independently from the parent company’s operations in China, and stem further controversy, according to Reuters.

But is it too late? Bytedance made its move into the U.S. market by acquiring another Chinese social media company, Musical.ly, two years ago. That acquisition did not attract controversy at the time, but last month, it was reported that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is conducting a national security review of the deal. Depending on the outcome of that investigation and other potential moves by U.S. lawmakers in Washington, Bytedance could find its room for maneuvering in the American market to be severely limited.


3. Are you working with a Chinese defense university?

Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has a new resource that tracks what is called “military-civil fusion” in Chinese universities. The trend of technically civilian universities in China becoming more involved in research used for military or security purposes has sped up in recent years, just as alarm have been raised about issues like China’s racially discriminatory surveillance networks, and concern about China-originating cyberattacks has not abated.

Researcher Alex Joske describes the extent of the problem this way:

At least 15 civilian universities have been implicated in cyberattacks, illegal exports or espionage.

China’s defence industry conglomerates are supervising agencies of nine universities and have sent thousands of their employees to train abroad.

This raises questions for governments, universities and companies that collaborate with partners in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). There’s a growing risk that collaboration with PRC universities can be leveraged by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or security agencies for surveillance, human rights abuses or military purposes…

While military–civil fusion doesn’t mean that barriers between the military and other parts of PRC society have vanished, it’s breaking down those barriers in many universities. At least 68 universities are officially described as parts of the defence system or are supervised by China’s defence industry agency, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND, 国家国防科技工业局 guójiā guófáng kējì gōngyè jú).

ASPI also updated a public database that maps the global expansion of key Chinese technology companies, including many involved in surveillance.

In related news, many major American companies — including Seagate Technology, Western Digital, Intel, and Hewlett Packard — have been deeply involved in helping to build the Chinese surveillance state, according to a Wall Street Journal report.



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4. Beijing district CDC director spreads homophobia for World AIDS Day

Photo credit: Screenshot of the Beijing Dongcheng District video released ahead of World AIDS Day.

HIV is contagious, once infected, you’re bound to die

No vaccines and no medicines, death is right around the corner

You absolutely should not have homosexual love

Believe it or not, this is not some strange chant from a Westboro Baptist Church member. Rather, it is a series of remarks made in the form of shulaibao (数来宝 shǔláibǎo), a traditional Chinese form of rhythmic storytelling to the accompaniment of bamboo clappers. The writer of the remarks is, incredibly, Wáng Liánjūn 王联君, the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing’s Dongcheng District.

Wang’s performance was supposed to mark World AIDS Day, December 1, which was designated in 1988 by the World Health Organization as an international day dedicated to fighting HIV, showing support for people living with the virus, and helping to reduce HIV-related stigma. Instead, Wang merely spread the stigma for the Chinese gay community, which is disproportionately at risk for HIV/AIDS.

On Weibo, LGBTQ rights advocates were quick to criticize (in Chinese) Wang’s remarks. “This is deeply offensive and misleading. How could someone like Wang become the head of the center?” one angry Weibo user wrote.

“It’s bafflingly tone-deaf for a public health institute to spread the fear of HIV/AIDS,” wrote the Beijing Queer Chorus on Weibo (in Chinese). “The disease can be prevented through scientific measures. It should not be seen as a sin or a topic of taboo. Please embrace people living with HIV with warm hugs.”

There’s a longer version of this story on SupChina.


5. Job applicant from Henan wins discrimination suit

Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Henan Province is the Chinese heartland (click here to view its location in Google Maps), known for incubating ancient agrarian communities along the Yellow River (Hénán 河南 means “south of the river”).

Today, Henan is packed with people, but remains less advanced economically. Its rural residents are often the butt of jokes elsewhere in China, and Henanese people are stereotyped in China’s rich coastal cities as unsophisticated migrant workers, thieves, or worse. A story about a man in Henan stealing manhole covers for scrap made the rounds on social media a few months ago, for example.

One woman recently fought back against stereotypes of Henanese, and successfully argued in court that she was subjected to “geographic discrimination.” Sixth Tone has the details:

In an official statement Tuesday, the Hangzhou Internet Court ordered the defendant, Zhejiang Sheraton Resort Co. Ltd. — no affiliation with the U.S. company Sheraton Hotels and Resorts — to compensate the 23-year-old plaintiff, surnamed Yan, with 10,000 yuan ($1,400), mostly for “mental anguish.” The court further ordered the company to publish a public apology to the woman in domestic newspaper Legal Daily.

According to the court’s verdict, Yan applied for two roles with the company in early July: legal specialist and personal assistant to the chairman. On two notices she later received from the company, “Henanese” was written as the reason she was rejected.


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