Did China kill C.I.A. spies? Plus: Chinese views on Iran – China’s latest top news

A roundup of the top China news for May 22, 2017. Get this free daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at supchina.com/subscribe.

Did China shoot C.I.A. informants?

The New York Times reported (paywall) on May 20 that “the Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.”

  • The article says that “current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades,” and that one Chinese informant “was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.”
  • NPR has an interview with Mark Mazzetti, one of the reporters who worked on the Times story.
  • At the time of compiling this newsletter, there had been no official response from the Chinese government. The Global Times, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party-affiliated People’s Daily, ran a short mention (in Chinese) of the New York Times story, which the People’s Daily reprinted — it refers to the C.I.A.’s loss of informants but not to the allegations about the shooting.
  • The Global Times also posted a video (in Chinese) of editor-in-chief Hu Xijin talking about the Times story. Hu says that if it is true, the news is a victory for China’s counterespionage system, but that the story of the C.I.A. informant being shot in the courtyard of a government building is ridiculous and that the Times journalists may have been watching too many spy movies. The Global Times has also published a commentary piece in English that presents a similar opinion.
  • The South China Morning Post quotes analysts who say that the spy report “won’t harm Sino-U.S. ties,” but who also dispute the Times’ account of the shooting.

Chinese views on the elections in Iran

The BBC reports that “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani was reelected in a presidential election on May 19, and that over the weekend, “reformists won key council elections in the capital, Tehran.” The elections received broad coverage in China from state and commercial media, and the Changpian newsletter has compiled a summary of the Chinese media coverage of the elections. Some highlights (all links are to Chinese articles):

  • Some Chinese state media reported on the “intense campaigning” in the election.
  • Caixin “had multiple Farsi-speaking contributors on the ground.” One analyzed a series of televised election debates, while another interviewed ordinary Iranians “revealing both excitement — with passersby smiling at the green ribbon Rouhani supporters tied around the reporter’s wrist — and cynicism about the country’s politics.”
  • Journalist Wang Yan 王衍 offered “a personal take on what it feels like to be a foreign woman on a reporting trip in a country both strange” — people ask women to cover up their hair — and “familiar” — you need a VPN to get on Facebook. Changpian says that “Wang ends her trip exhausted at the clothing restrictions, but having made observations that might go some way in explaining the attraction of Iran to some young, urban Chinese” — namely, that it is another example of a developing country with a long history where it is difficult to separate modernization from westernization, leading to a constant struggle between resistance and assimilation.
  • Changpian also points to some interesting Chinese writing on other aspects of Iran, covering feminist debate, temporary marriage, Henanese Hui immigrants in Iran, and film director Abbas Kiarostami’s funeral last year (with photographs).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 6

Hear Kaiser Kuo, Ada Shen, and Caixin editors narrate and discuss the week’s biggest China business stories. The sixth installment includes stories on the Belt and Road initiative, “combustible ice” being mined in the South China Sea, plus conversations with Doug Young on mobile payments and Fran Wang on macro numbers. Please send your feedback on this new podcast to sinica@supchina.com.

This issue of the SupChina newsletter was produced by Sky Canaves, Lucas Niewenhuis, Jia Guo, and Jiayun Feng. More China stories worth your time are curated below, with the most important ones at the top of each section.


Summer of 2017 to see tax evasion crackdown

Financial authorities on May 19 announced that “from July 1, all deposit-taking institutions, policy banks, investment agencies and insurers must ensure each new account has detailed information for tax assessments, including names, addresses, account balances and revenue flows,” the South China Morning Post reports. China Daily refers to the new measures as a stricter form of the due diligence tax procedures already in place, which expands oversight of non-resident accounts and prepares China to share information on tax evasion with other countries.

The SCMP explains that the new rules seek to expand tax revenue during a time of large fiscal deficits, and also satisfy a requirement of the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, a framework designed by the Group of 20 major economies and ratified by China in 2015.


China detains six Japanese, possibly for spying

Six Japanese men, three in China’s northeastern Shandong Province and three on the southern island of Hainan — both of which possess major Chinese military bases — have been detained for “illegal activities,” Reuters reports. A routine statement from China’s Foreign Ministry did not elaborate on reasons for the detentions, but Nikkei Asian Review notes (paywall) a number of sources that point toward suspected espionage. Nikkei Asian Review explains that China has been ramping up efforts to root out foreign spies, and may be applying several new laws on the books: “a counterespionage law…in 2014, and a national security law in 2015.” China also initiated a propaganda campaign last month in Beijing that features a video on cash rewards of up to 500,000 yuan ($72,500) for reporting on a spy.

The incident may have to do with more than just rooting out spies. China has recently been pushing its claim to disputed islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, by sailing record numbers of ships and, for the first time, a drone near the resource-rich landform. The unprecedented drone excursion occurred on May 18, after which Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada complained that “China is escalating the situation unilaterally.” CNN reports that the incident pushed the “number of scrambles by [Japan’s] Self-Defense Force aircraft in response to Chinese incursions in the last fiscal year” to a record high, according to Inada.


Fresh air and free expression in America: Chinese student’s commencement speech stirs up Weibo

Chinese social media today woke up to an unsettling commencement speech by Yang Shuping 杨舒平, a new Chinese graduate from the University of Maryland, on May 21. Yang began her speech by recalling when she first landed in the U.S.: “I was ready to put on one of my five face masks, but when I took my first breath of American air, I put my mask away,” she said. “The air was so sweet and fresh and utterly luxurious.” She went on to talk about “the fresh air of free speech,” and how she was invited to express her opinions “on controversial issues” in Maryland. She concluded her speech by saying, “Freedom is oxygen. Freedom is passion. Freedom is love,” which drew a big round of applause.

The speech received a harsh backlash on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. Many internet users accused (in Chinese) Yang of courting the U.S. by belittling her home country, and some urged her not to return home. A popular comment reads, “For her, even shit in the U.S. smells good.” Some netizens questioned the authenticity of her speech, noting that Yang was born and grew up in Kunming, one of the least polluted cities in China. The Kunming government also weighed in by writing (in Chinese) on its official Weibo account that “up to May 8, the percentage of days with good air quality in Kunming is 100 percent,” and “in Kunming, air is very likely to be ‘sweet and fresh.’”

Finding herself at the center of an internet firestorm, Yang apologized (in Chinese) on her Weibo account on May 22: “I love my country and hometown. I am proud of its prosperity. The speech was just to share my personal experience of studying abroad and by no means did I mean to insult my home country,” Yang wrote. “I sincerely apologize for the speech and hope for forgiveness.”