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A knife in the back for a veteran police official


Announcements for Access members:

  • CHINA Town Hall is tomorrow: At 6 p.m. EST on October 9, the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations will host a discussion with former secretary of state and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Don’t forget to tune in to the webcast:

    1. Meng Hongwei gets a knife in the back

    Mèng Hóngweǐ 孟宏, the senior Chinese police official who became the president of Interpol in 2016, was reported missing by his wife on Friday last week after he returned to China from Lyon, France, where Interpol is based and his family has been living.  

    On Sunday, his wife, identified as Grace Meng, gave a press conference about her husband’s disappearance. She hid her face from the cameras as she feared being identified, but her words were forthright (via the Washington Post):

    From now on, I have gone from sorrow and fear to the pursuit of truth, justice and responsibility toward history. For the husband whom I deeply love, for my young children, for the people of my motherland, for all the wives and children, so that their husbands and fathers will no longer disappear.

    “I think he means he is in danger,” Grace Meng said, explaining that her husband’s final message to her, just before she lost contact with him, was a knife emoji sent from his Interpol mobile phone. It’s notable that she said they used not WeChat but WhatsApp, a messaging service whose servers are not accessible by the Chinese government.

    Shortly after Grace Meng spoke, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) released this terse statement (in Chinese): “Meng Hongwei, vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security, is suspected of breaking the law and is currently under the supervision of the National Supervision Commission.” The NSC is a new anti-corruption body created this year that will integrate with CCDI — see this explainer by Jamie Horsley if you need a crash course on it.

    “This is political ruin and fall!” was Grace Meng’s response to the CCDI announcement in a text to the Associated Press: “I can’t believe because the rule of law (in) China is his lifelong pursuit.” Today, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) released a statement (in Chinese) explaining Meng’s disappearance further:

    • Meng is accused of “accepting bribes” and “suspected of illegally accepting investigation [results] by the National Supervision Commission.”

    • MPS argues that Meng’s downfall “fully demonstrates that there is no privilege and no exception before the law and anyone who violates the law must be severely punished.”

    • But most of the statement is about Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 and the need to closely adhere to his Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

    • Zhōu Yǒngkāng 周永康, China’s fallen former chief of MPS and apparent archenemy of Xi Jinping, gets a mention. The statement says that the Ministry will not let up on anti-corruption work until “Zhou Yongkang’s poisonous influence is resolutely and thoroughly eliminated.”  

    The highly political nature of the MPS statement indicates — to me at least — that corruption is merely an excuse for taking Meng down. In comments to the Guardian, respected political commentator Zhāng Lìfán 章立凡 seems to agree:

    Making the president of Interpol suddenly disappear is embarrassing, but China no longer cares about “losing face”… I think the authorities knew how big the discussion would be after this incident, but they just don’t care… I don’t think the reason behind Meng’s investigation is corruption. It’s likely related to a power struggle.”

    What else do we know?

    Not a great deal, but this is some of the other reporting and commentary on the case:

    • On October 6, Interpol tweeted: “Interpol’s General Secretariat looks forward to an official response from China’s authorities to address concerns over the President’s well-being.”

    • Today, Interpol tweeted: “Today, Sunday 7 October, the Interpol General Secretariat in Lyon, France received the resignation of Mr Meng Hongwei as President of Interpol with immediate effect.”

    • A pouting editorial from the Global Times says that “Western media refuses to understand China’s law in Meng case,” arguing that “Meng, as a senior official of China’s Ministry of Public Security, is subject to the supervision of the National Supervisory Commission,” and therefore that his unannounced disappearance was “in full compliance with the law.”

    • “The rise and spectacular fall of China’s Interpol chief Meng Hongwei” is how the South China Morning Post headlined an article that includes most of what is known about the fallen official. Which is not much, aside from the fact that he is a veteran public security official who has “spent decades in the law-enforcement sector,” and has held “a wide range of portfolios, including in politically sensitive areas such as counterterrorism and coastal defense.”

    • “Meng is currently under house arrest in a suburb of Beijing,” and many of his subordinates have also been implicated in the case, according to “a person familiar with the matter” interviewed by Radio Free Asia.

    • “There was strong disagreement about the move to detain Meng in the highest echelons of the Chinese leadership,” according to “a second person familiar with the situation” who talked to Radio Free Asia.

    • “Meng’s wife sought to distance her husband from Zhou [Yongkang],” according to the Washington Post (same link as above). She said “the two men did not get on,” and that “Zhou had sought to muscle her husband out of the public security ministry…  several times and disliked her husband ‘very much.’”

    • Worth thinking about:

    • Other reporting:

    —Jeremy Goldkorn

    2. U.S.-China relations and trade war update

    Over the weekend, reactions to the two bombshell U.S.-China stories of last week — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s anti-China speech, and the hardware-hacking allegations detailed by Bloomberg Businessweek — continued to roll in.

    • Mike Pompeo got an earful today in Beijing, partially in reaction to Pence’s speech, as the U.S. Secretary of State held discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Wáng Yì 王毅. Pompeo indicated in a tweet that his focus was “coordination with #China on the critical issue of denuclearization of #DPRK,” but he may have had some difficulty with that, given the current tensions.

    • The New York Times reports (porous paywall) that Wang “chided the Trump administration for ‘ceaselessly elevating’ trade tensions,” while Pompeo “said in a tart response that the United States had a ‘fundamental disagreement’ on the issues that China raised”:

    The sharp tit-for-tat stripped away the customary veneer of diplomatic niceties during public remarks. It came days after Washington laid down a tough new China policy announced by Vice President Mike Pence, who declared in a speech that the United States would “not stand down.”

    • Guō Wénguì 郭文贵, the blustery exiled tycoon, says that he advised Pence in his speech, and “claims Washington is conducting as many as 18 secret investigations into communist party officials, and that he expects them to be completed within the next three weeks,” Taiwan News reports.

    • Pence’s speech was censored from the U.S. Embassy’s WeChat feed — and also from SupChina’s WeChat feed, for what it’s worth.

    • Pence’s speech received more criticism over its partisanship — not only does it not really detail how China should work to reduce tensions, but it tells an American audience, “You’re with Trump or you’re with China,” Graham Webster commented. Tanner Greer also noted, “If you cannot get the [Democrats] behind you on this effort — that is, if this is not a unifying force in American politics — then the game is up from the get-go.”

    • Nevertheless, the speech is widely being seen as a likely “inflection point in Washington-Beijing relations” — see this article by Gerald F. Seib (paywall) in the Wall Street Journal as an example.

    As for hardware hacking, Apple has strongly challenged the Bloomberg Businessweek account, Reuters reports:

    Apple Vice President for Information Security George Stathakopoulos wrote in a letter to the Senate and House commerce committees that the company had repeatedly investigated and found no evidence for the main points in a Bloomberg Businessweek article published on Thursday, including that chips inside servers sold to Apple by Super Micro Computer Inc (SMCI.PK) allowed for backdoor transmissions to China.

    • Apple is joined by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre and even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who both indicated that they have “no reason to doubt denials from Apple and Amazon.com Inc that they had discovered backdoored chips.”

    • China avoided further commenting on the hacking allegations, CBS says.

    • Chinese internet commenters responded with skepticism to the allegations, says Radii China. One compared it with Colin Powell’s infamous anthrax speech at the UN, which preceded the Iraq War.

    Meanwhile, in the trade war, there is mostly one piece of notable, though not surprising, news: Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Commerce Secretary, confirmed to Reuters that the rebranded NAFTA agreement has what he calls a “poison pill” function to bar Mexico and Canada from negotiating trade deals with China — and he intends to try to insert a similar clause into future deals that the Trump administration makes.

    Other trade war links:

    • Trade war strategy
      The Trump trade strategy is coming into focus. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will work. / NYT (porous paywall)
      “We are talking to the European Union again, we are talking to Japan again, and we are moving to what I have characterized as a trade coalition of the willing to confront China,” Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow said. Mary E. Lovely, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, commented, “They’re going to use these bilateral deals to strong-arm countries into lining up behind the U.S. on China. But when we get there, what’s the next step? I don’t know what the endgame is.”

    • Future of international business deals in jeopardy?
      China wants to strike back on trade. Big U.S. deals could suffer. / NYT (porous paywall)
      “A number of global deals involving American companies are under review by Chinese market regulators. Among the biggest is Walt Disney Company’s $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox, which has an Oct. 19 deadline. United Technologies — owner of Pratt & Whitney, the jet engine maker, and other industrial businesses — is waiting to close a $30 billion purchase of Rockwell Collins, the aerospace parts maker.”

    • Tariff loopholes
      The US-China trade battle spawns a new era of tariff dodges / WSJ (paywall)
      “Switching around the 18,927 codes that identify imported goods is an increasingly popular way some Chinese exporters are ducking American tariffs.”

    • Currency
      US growing concerned about China’s falling currency and ‘turn away from market-oriented policies’ / CNBC
      “U.S. officials are concerned about the recent depreciation in China’s currency and plan to lay out details on China’s policies in an upcoming foreign exchange report, according to a senior U.S. Treasury official.”

    • Commentary
      Opinion | This is what sleepwalking into war looks like / by Robert Kagan in the Washington Post
      “Trump’s top trade adviser, Robert E. Lighthizer, is apparently seeking a replay of the Reagan administration’s success in the 1980s of forcing Japan to reduce barriers.”
      “The analogy is dangerously inapt. Japan was a dependent ally with no recourse other than to bargain for the best deal it could. China has other options. Its military power is growing rapidly, and the balance in East Asia is gradually tilting away from the United States. If the price of winning the trade war is an aggressive Chinese military move in the South China Sea or against Taiwan, the costs to the United States, in terms of instability in the region, frayed alliances, and its own standing as a guarantor of security, would be much higher than the economic benefits of a new trade arrangement.”

    —Lucas Niewenhuis

    3. ‘Large numbers of Uyghurs shipped by train to prisons in interior China’

    Two reports from Radio Free Asia, the U.S.-funded media outlet that has led much of the reporting on the crisis in Xinjiang, indicate a new phase in the treatment of Uyghur “re-education” prisoners may be beginning:

    • Xinjiang Authorities Secretly Transferring Uyghur Detainees to Jails Throughout China / Radio Free Asia
      Rian Thum, one of the most vocal scholars on Xinjiang, calls this a “Richly sourced, disturbing report on a new phase of China’s internment camps for Muslim minorities. Train ticket sales in Urumqi halted from Oct 22. Large numbers of Uyghurs shipped by train to prisons in interior China. Camps overflowing in Xinjiang.”
      David Brophy, an Australia-based scholar of Xinjiang, comments that it is “Hard to work out if this is a measure to remove excess prison population, or a new Qing-style policy of exile to the interior. Very worrying news.”

    • 新疆“再教育营”摇身变成工厂 / Radio Free Asia
      The headline reads: “Xinjiang ‘re-education camps’ abruptly turned into factories.”
      Adrian Zenz, the leading scholar specifically studying the Xinjiang re-education camps, summarizes the article: “partly due to mounting int’l pressure, some Xinjiang re-education camps are closed, returned to original purposes (schools), turned into factories etc. Some ‘well-behaved’ detainees who learned Chinese well are released, but continue to be closely monitored.”

    Two other notable reports:

    —Lucas Niewenhuis

    4. ‘We are optimistic about China’s economy’ — today in state media

    Central state media mostly continues to rehash old themes today.

    • The People’s Daily’s Chinese website leads with “Give full play to the advantages and grasp the key tasks of revitalizing the Northeast,” a mind numbingly dull review of recent Xi speeches.

    • “We are optimistic about the prospects of China’s economy — A review of China’s current reform and development,” declares the top story of Xinhua News Agency’s Chinese website today. The headline is self-explanatory: it’s a piece of boosterism to counter trade war worries. The English version is Economic Watch: Key statistics revealing China’s economic resilience.

    • “After Pompeo’s visit to China, there’s no optimism for U.S.-China relations,” is one of Global Times top stories today (in Chinese). The English version is titled Wang, Pompeo seek trust.

    —Jeremy Goldkorn

    —–

    Our whole team really appreciates your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at jeremy@supchina.com.

    —Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


    BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

    POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS

    • Israel and technology
      China’s vice president to visit Israel / Haaretz
      Vice premier Wáng Qíshān 王岐山 will visit Israel on October 22-25 to head the fourth “China-Israel Innovation Committee.” Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma (马云 Mǎ Yún) might join the delegation.

    • Hong Kong press freedom
      On Friday last week, we declared that press freedom died when the government refused to review the visa of Financial Times editor Victor Mallet, in retribution for his moderating a debate with the dissident founder of a newly banned political party.

      • The Hong Kong government is sending a clear message. After the visa refusal, “Mallet was stopped and questioned by immigration officials at the airport on Sunday night as he reentered the city,” reports HKFP.

      • “Hong Kong has no less speech freedom without Mallet,” whines the nationalist rag Global Times in a characteristic display of logical gymnastics.

      • The Financial Times does not agree, and published an editorial calling the affair Hong Kong’s move against free speech: “Mr Mallet is an experienced editor and foreign correspondent. No criticism has been offered of his work as a journalist. In the absence of any proper explanation for the decision, it is therefore hard to resist the conclusion that it amounts to retribution for his role as first vice-president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong.”

    • Warming ties with Japan
      Toward a Pax Sinae-Nipponica era / Japan Times
      “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is about to make history. In late October, he will go to China with the primary purpose of holding formal talks with Chinese leaders, including President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平. A top-level bilateral summit with China has not taken place since Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda went to Beijing in December 2011.”

    • Africa
      Proof of China’s significance to Africa, at least to its leaders: Quartz reports that “fewer African presidents attended the general assembly in New York than the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation that took place in Beijing two weeks earlier in September.” Other news from Africa:

    • Fan Bingbing tax evasion case
      China punishes taxmen who investigated superstar Fan Bingbing / AFP via Straits Times
      “Officials who investigated Chinese superstar Fàn Bīngbīng 范冰冰 for tax evasion have been punished for ‘poor management,’ state media reported on Monday (Oct 8). At least five people have been disciplined, including the head of the taxation bureau in the eastern city of Wuxi, where Fan’s company is based, the official Xinhua news agency reported.”Channel NewsAsia reporter Dù Wéi 杜唯 tweeted: “I don’t think they were the people who investigated Fan, they were the taxmen under whose watch the tax evasion happened.”

    • Russian missiles
      Why do countries want to buy the Russian S-400? / Al Jazeera
      Several countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, and Qatar, “have said they are willing to buy the S-400 surface-to-air missile.” These plans have led to threats of diplomatic retaliation from the U.S. and NATO “not only because the S-400 is technologically advanced, it also poses a potential risk for long-standing alliances.”

    • Child trafficking in Beijing
      Police accused of not investigating suspected child traffickers / Sixth Tone
      “Father of nearly-abducted child ‘deeply disappointed’ over suspects being given just five days’ detention.”

    • Organ transplant accusations and Taiwan
      ‘The Slaughter’ author leaves Taiwan after high-profile visit / Focus Taiwan
      Last week: Taipei mayor takes legal action against U.S. author for defamation / Focus Taiwan
      “Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲 Kē Wénzhé) Thursday took legal action against a visiting American writer [Ethan Gutmann] who claims Ko was involved in organ transplants in China.”

    • Vatican-Beijing deal ?
      Despite China-Vatican agreement, many Chinese worry about religious freedom / America Magazine

    • Swine fever
      China bans imports of Bulgaria pigs, wild boars, products over African swine fever / Reuters
      China reports new African swine fever outbreak in Liaoning Province / Reuters

    SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

    • Diet and the North-South genetic divide  
      Hidden stories of Chinese migration and culture found in giant genetic study / NYT (porous paywall)
      One of several interesting findings from a massive study of snippets from the genomes of 141,431 Chinese people is that “a mutation of FADS2, a gene involved in metabolizing fatty acids, is more common in northern than southern populations, indicating a diet richer in animal content.”

    • ‘No one here has actually read anything I’ve written’ — novelist Yan Lianke  
      Yan Lianke’s forbidden satires of China / New Yorker (porous paywall)
      Jiayang Fan spent some time with novelist Yán Liánkē 阎连科 in Beijing, and in his home village near Luoyang, Henan Province. She describes his rise from PLA soldier to script writer of army TV shows to internationally acclaimed novelist. Some highlights:

      • Yan, on his home village, where he is a celebrity: “No one here has actually read anything I’ve written, or knows that my books are banned. To live in China in 2018 is to inhabit a reality that makes you question the very nature of reality.”

      • This piece of gold:

    For years, the [Yan] siblings had been trying to get their mother to live with one of them, but she always refused. Eventually, they found a woman in the village who could look after her. The arrangement seemed mutually beneficial: their mother needed someone who could come at a moment’s notice, and the aide, a grandmother herself, could earn some extra cash.

    But there was trouble, Yan explained to me, employing the phrase zhàn piányí 占便宜 (literally, “occupy small advantages”), which means to be on the sweeter end of a bargain. One legacy of Communism, he believes, is that people think the only way to get ahead is by pulling a fast one of some kind. In an unjust world, zhan pianyi becomes a private way of keeping score, so that, even when a deal seems demonstrably equitable, people are always asking themselves if they are being taken advantage of or, preferably, taking advantage of someone else. For the Chinese, Yan said, the feeling of coming out ahead produces a “skewed, misbegotten joy” that has become his mother’s most intense pleasure.


    VIDEO OF THE DAY

    What is Interpol?

    Meng Hongwei, the head of Interpol (the international police organization), disappeared mysteriously during his trip to China in late September. It was then revealed that he was detained by the Chinese authorities on corruption charges. Yet no one seems to know the real reason behind the detention. Let’s take a closer look at the organization that Meng worked for. What is Interpol, and what is China’s involvement in the organization?


    ON SUPCHINA

    Kuora: The 1911 Xinhai Revolution and birth of modern China

    What precipitated the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, which ended the Qing Dynasty and ushered in modern China? Political opposition to the Qing had been around in one form or another since the dynasty’s inception in 1644, but more proximate causes of the 1911 Revolution date only to the latter part of the 19th century. Kaiser Kuo takes a closer look.

    Sinica Podcast Early Access: Nury Turkel and the Uyghur plight

    This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy are joined by Nury Turkel, a prominent voice in the overseas Uyghur community and the chairman of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, now based in Washington, D.C. We discussed Nury’s own experiences as a Uyghur and an activist both in China and the United States; the increasingly vocal Uyghur diaspora around the world in the wake of widespread detentions in Xinjiang; the relative absence of state-level pushback outside of China; and the international organizations that advocate for Uyghur rights in China and the accompanying pushback from Beijing.  

    • Subscribe to Sinica Early Access by plugging this RSS feed directly into your podcast app.

    China Sports Column: NBA takes spotlight in China, offers lesson for country’s sports industry

    The NBA stands alone in China as a powerhouse, unchallenged by other international basketball leagues and unmatched by China’s domestic rival, the CBA. That point was rammed home once again on Friday when the Philadelphia 76ers and the Dallas Mavericks faced off in Shanghai for the 25th China game in league history. Hopefully the Chinese Super League — China’s top-tier soccer league — was watching, because they could take a few lessons.

    Friday Song: A song for your future self, by Fish Leong

    “To My Future Self” (给未来的自己), sung by Malaysian-Chinese star Fish Leong 梁静茹 and composed by Huang Ting 黄婷, was released in 2007 in the album Worship (崇拜). It’s an uplifting song about staying hopeful and strong in the face of difficulties.


    PHOTO FROM MICHAEL YAMASHITA

    Fall foliage

    Autumnal trees surround a small village in Danba County, Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in western Sichuan Province.

    Jia Guo

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Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.