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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

SupChina Access: A China-Perspective News Digest

1. Veteran protests: Is this time different?

In the last few days, the news out of China that has most animated my Chinese friends — especially those with official backgrounds — is the latest protest by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans.
  • Over the last few weeks, veterans have held protests in several cities. The New York Times reported (paywall) that they were complaining about mistreatment, poor job prospects, and inadequate benefits. Last week, more than 1,000 veterans gathered in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province, “after rumors spread that at least one veteran had been beaten while seeking government help.”
  • On Monday, “scores of armed police came…along with government officials to force everyone to go home,” a witness who supported the veterans told Agence France-Presse. (See also China Digital Times and the South China Morning Post for reporting and links.)
  • Veteran protests are not new: There was a similar protest in Luohe, Henan Province, in May, and here is a Chinese-language web page that lists various recent veteran protests. In 2016, about 1,000 veterans protested in Beijing outside the People’s Liberation Army headquarters, and in 2017, they did the same outside the offices of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) — the Party’s powerful anti-corruption organization.
Is this time any different? Maybe. Here is a Voice of America video segment about the protests. It includes plenty of phone footage of huge crowds of veterans, and commentary from historian and public intellectual Zhang Lifan 章立凡. Zhang summarized his comments in a Twitter thread. Here is an adapted translation with some additions from his comments on the VOA video:
The timing of this “legal rights defense [维权 wéiquán, i.e., protest action] is comparatively sensitive, coming in the “summer of problems” with the China-U.S. trade war and the slowdown of the Chinese economy. In the previous two occasions that the veterans petitioned in Beijing, both sides used peaceful means, and the government did not respond with strict repression. But this time, blood has been shed. I imagine the authorities are having a dilemma: If they repress the protests strongly, they have no way to climb down. If there is any large-scale violence, it will influence the military heart of the Party, and damage the prospects of military reforms that have not yet been made.
There are some other key differences:
One: This time, the veterans were highly organized, nationwide.
Two: Different from last year and the year before, this year, the 19th Party Congress has already established the Veterans Bureau. There’s a specialized government department in charge, but the problems have still not been solved.
Three: The government’s strategy to counter the protests is different from the past. In the past, they would simply obstruct the protests, now they are using military strategies [兵法 bīngfǎ — in the VOA interview, he mentions the authorities giving veterans tickets to places far from the protests and other classic Communist tricks].
Four: There has been violence [流血冲突 liúxuè chōngtú].
There is one piece of footage where you can see veterans in front of the city government offices repeating their oaths of loyalty to the Party flag. This demonstrates their legality/legitimacy of their cause, and their contribution to the government. Those who yesterday maintained stability have become today’s cause of instability. The Zhao family army [赵家军 zhào jiājūn — i.e., the army of the ruling classes] of yesterday has become the enemy of today’s Zhao family.
If it really comes to new soldiers attacking old soldiers, the risks are huge. Because when the new soldiers strike, they may start thinking about a day in the future when they will be veterans themselves.

2. Gloom and doom and trade boom update

Here is everything you need to know today from the front lines of the U.S.-China trade war:
  • Starting on July 6, U.S. soybean imports into China will have a 25 percent tariff, but there may not be enough soy elsewhere in the world for China to avoid using American beans, according to CNBC. China may also have no alternative to American liquefied natural gas (LNG).
  • Shifting production? “A group of senior Thai politicians and businessmen are meeting in China with Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics maker, and other companies to seek investment in Thailand,” reports the South China Morning Post.
  • Another signal: India’s Economic Times reports that “Apple has started commercial production of the iPhone 6s in India.” Last year in May, Apple began making the iPhone SE in India. The ostensible reason for manufacturing in India is to lower costs. “And — maybe not coincidentally — ” as Jamestown Foundation China Brief editor Matt Schrader tweeted, “diversify their assembly base away from China, and away from Foxconn.”
  • The world’s stock markets are generally down, but it depends on what time of day you check. This morning, the Financial Times ran the headline Markets rally as Trump softens China trade stance (paywall). But just last night, the FT said that China's bear market was spooking European stocks (paywall).
  • Trump’s softening was this: “President Trump said his administration will take a more moderate approach to limit Chinese investment in the United States, rejecting more aggressive restrictions that would have imposed new curbs on Beijing,” per the New York Times (paywall).
  • Meanwhile, “China’s central bank guided the yuan to a six-month low against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday, sending the Chinese currency tumbling once trading began minutes later,” reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall).
  • The tumble in the yuan “blindsided currency forecasters” and “is now triggering warnings of potential contagion,” according to Bloomberg.
  • Financial panic? In a separate report, Bloomberg says that a “leaked report from a Chinese government-backed think tank has warned of a potential ‘financial panic’ in the world’s second-largest economy, a sign that some members of the nation’s policy elite are growing concerned as market turbulence and trade tensions increase.”
—Jeremy Goldkorn

3. China will not cede a single inch — South China Sea

Jim Mattis arrived in Beijing on June 26, becoming the first U.S. Secretary of Defense to visit China in four years. The South China Morning Post reports that he met with his counterpart, Wei Fenghe 魏凤和, with whom he had what he characterized as a “very open and honest dialogue,” and with President Xi Jinping. Xi told Mattis:
Our attitude is firm and clear in terms of Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity, that we would not lose a single inch of the lands we inherited from our ancestors, while we would not take a single penny of others’ possessions.
Xi also called for the “strengthening inter-military exchanges on all levels,” after the U.S. withdrew its invitation for China to participate in the biennial Rimpac military exercises following a confrontation in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea remains a sore spot for the U.S. and China.
  • Throughout April, China sent missiles to the Spratly Islands, a development that many Western security experts labeled “militarization.” Since then, other missiles have been removed and then put back on Woody Island, in the Paracels, another contested island chain.
  • Mattis may not have publicly criticized China’s sending of military equipment to the islands while he visited Beijing, but last month, he had decried the developments as “out of step with international law.”
  • China continues to argue that this is not militarization, with Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the U.K., writing in the Guardian that it is instead the American warships sailing through international waters that amounts to “militarization.”
—Lucas Niewenhuis

4. $9 billion spent on surveillance tech in Xinjiang in 2017

Evidence of a vast system of “re-education camps” in Xinjiang is growing even as the Chinese government continues to deny their existence. The camps are estimated to hold as much as 10 percent of the Uyghur population. They are closely related to what is probably the world’s most sophisticated citizen surveillance operation, documented last year in December by the Wall Street Journal. Yesterday, Agence France-Presse reported:
  • “Xinjiang saw security spending balloon ‘nearly 100 percent’ last year, totaling more than 58 billion yuan ($9 billion) — twice its spending on healthcare,” according to Xinjiang specialist Adrian Zenz.
  • “Facial recognition, iris scanners, DNA collection and artificial intelligence are also being used by Xinjiang's government to ensure there are ‘no cracks, no blind spots, no gaps’ for the region's more than 20 million residents to slip through.”
  • Chinese firms are cashing in. The Shenzhen-based firm Hikvision has enjoyed five government contracts in Xinjiang totaling $280 million, with much of it going toward camera equipment in rural as well as urban areas.
  • In other Xinjiang gulag news, Global Voices has more on Erfan Hezim, the “rising star footballer who is among more than a million Uyghurs sent to Chinese re-education’ camps.”
—Lucy Best

5. The only person in China who can’t talk about the World Cup

A screenshot that has been making rounds on Chinese social media apparently shows that Chinese sports forum Hupu has punished one user — let’s call him Mr. X — for making a joke with a seven-day timeout, suspending his posting rights for a crucial period of the World Cup.
  • “Messi says he wants to be captain for three more terms” Mr. X posted on June 23. Messi has captained the Argentinian national team in two World Cups: 2014 and 2018. This year, his team narrowly avoided being eliminated from the final 16. Given that Messi just turned 31, this might be his last chance to win a World Cup.
  • Mr. X’s remarks might seem innocuous, but for anyone who’s been following news from China, the joke is very likely a reference to Xi Jinping’s repeal of presidential term limits in February.
  • We cannot verify the authenticity of the screenshot, but if real, Hupu censors decided to mute Mr. X’s account for a week for “violating community regulations” by posting “sensitive content regarding pornography, gambling, drug abuse, politics, regions, religion or rumors.”
—Jiayun Feng

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