The Trump crumple

Access Archive

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1. The Trump crumple — U.S.-China trade war, day 301

Axios — a new media company that prides itself on its insider connections in Washington, D.C. — today pointed to an April 30 story (paywall) by Tom Mitchell in Beijing and James Politi of the Financial Times:

Donald Trump has…softened his administration’s opening position on what it originally characterized as “Chinese government-conducted, sponsored, and tolerated cyber intrusions into U.S. commercial networks,” according to several people briefed on the negotiations. The U.S. is instead likely to accept a watered-down commitment from Beijing as an alternative.

“A lot of issues are being jettisoned from this negotiation because President Trump wants a deal,” one of the people said.  

The absence of strong provisions against Chinese theft of U.S. trade secrets will raise concerns that the Trump administration is prepared to settle for limited progress on crucial “structural” reforms in the trade agreement.

“The stage is being set for a summit between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 to sign an agreement on rolling back tariffs,” reported Politico today.

It is looking increasingly like Trump’s tariff fiasco may turn out to have been full of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing.

2. The Xinjiang panopticon

Gerry Shih of the Washington Post is one of the journalists who has done the most to expose the internment camp and surveillance system in Xinjiang. His latest:

Chinese database is tracking cellphone usage, car location and even electricity usage of Xinjiang residents

The apparent technology-driven controls by Beijing, outlined in a report by Human Rights Watch, are part of wider crackdowns in Xinjiang that include the internment of an estimated 1 million Muslim citizens and far-reaching electronic surveillance.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday it gained a new level of insight into precisely what information the Chinese government collects by examining a mobile app that Xinjiang officials use to input data into a database called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, or IJOP.

See also on Xinjiang:

3. Two views of Confucius Institutes in Israel

There are two Confucius Institutes (CIs) operating in Israel. “The first opened at Tel Aviv University in 2007 and the second at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2014,” according to a Haaretz article (paywall, or see a version of the same story without a paywall here). As in the U.S. and Europe, the CIs are increasingly controversial, and criticized for disseminating propaganda and restricting academic freedom.  

Here are two views from Israel quoted in the article:

Dr. Lihi Yariv-Laor, head of the Confucius Institute at Hebrew University

“The researchers and professors here enjoy full academic freedom. To this day, during the five years of existence of the Confucius Institute at Hebrew University, the Chinese side has not dictated anything to us.”

Noam Urbach, who teaches Chinese at Bar-Ilan University

“There’s no reason to open an institute of this kind in the university, or for its cooperation with the department, other than to engage in censorship, exert pressure and limit academic freedom… There is tremendous self-censorship among researchers of China in Israel. It goes well beyond the dreams of every cadre in the Communist Party.”

4. A video to compete with China’s Belt and Road billions

This is like bringing a knife to a war being fought with ballistic missiles — the South China Morning Post reports:

The United States has stepped up its attacks on China’s Belt and Road Initiative claiming Washington offers a better option through “transparent, free and fair trade deals.”

ShareAmerica, a website managed by the Department of State to promote US policy and culture, warned in a new video that as China pushes the initiative, countries should be careful “not to get caught in China’s Belt and Road debt trap.” The video…has been subtitled in six other languages, including Chinese.

The Chinese government brings infrastructure and boatloads of renminbi to the table; the American State Department brings a video.

5. Marxist students disappeared before Workers Day

“Xí Jinpíng 习近平 heads a party born out of a youth movement, and he’s now determined to stamp out anything that could threaten to replicate it,” writes Eric Fish in 1919 to 2019: A century of youth protest and ideological conflict around May 4, published earlier this week on SupChina.

So this is depressingly predictable: CNN reports that another six Marxist student activists were disappeared in the days before May 1, International Workers Day:

An activist group linked to the six missing students announced their disappearance in a statement released Tuesday. CNN tried to reach out to the students but found their phones were switched off. Since August 2018, left-wing students, including those from Beijing’s prestigious Peking University, have been detained across China apparently over their involvement in worker protests.


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—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Cash-hungry Chinese technology companies have turned to the convertible bond markets with gusto in 2019, raising $4.6bn in the year to date, according to data from Dealogic — many of them less than a year out from their IPOs. That is more than most years see in total and, unlike a convertibles rally for US tech companies that faded late last year, after offerings from the likes of Tesla and Twitter, analysts say this one may only get hotter as the year goes on.


China is planning to launch a spacecraft to explore one of Earth’s nearest non-moon neighbors. The spacecraft will attempt to return a sample from that asteroid back to Earth before exploring a comet in the asteroid belt.

The primary target is an asteroid known as 2016 HO3, and it’s a very unique specimen. It’s known as a “quasi-satellite”: almost, but not quite, a moon.


Academia Sinica yesterday began a three-day conference in Taipei to mark the centenary of the May Fourth Movement, with Academia Sinica president James Liao (廖俊智 Liào Jùnzhì) saying that academic research must be independent and free of the yoke of political ideology. The movement was triggered by a massive student protest in Beijing on May 4, 1919, against the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government.

He Fangmei, the mother of a baby made sick by a faulty vaccine, was initially detained by police from her home province of Henan on February 25 during a protest by parents of children affected by tainted and out-of-date vaccines outside the National Health Commission in Beijing…has now been formally arrested, and is being held in the Xinxiang Detention Center on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”

  • He’s name is being rendered as 何芳梅 Hé Fāngméi by overseas Chinese websites, but mentions of her appear to have been completely scrubbed from websites behind the Great Firewall.

  • China’s ongoing revenge for Canada’s arrest of Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟
    China blocks Canadian pork firms / Taipei Times  
    “Canadian Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau on Wednesday said that officials have told her Beijing has suspended the export permits of two Canadian pork exporters, marking the latest irritant in a widening diplomatic dispute.”

  • Falun Gong in the U.S.
    Falun Gong’s expansion plans for its New York compound adds to tension with neighbors / SCMP
    “Falun Gong’s Dragon Springs sits on 400 acres about an hour’s drive northwest of New York City. The steady growth of the complex has caused a rift with neighbors, who worry about its effect on the area’s environment and rural character.”

  • Espionage — Jerry Lee
    Former CIA officer Jerry Lee admits conspiracy to spy for China / Washington Post

A former CIA case officer long suspected in the intelligence community of being a devastating mole for the Chinese government admitted Wednesday he conspired to commit espionage in that country. But no evidence was produced that Jerry Chun Shing Lee [李春兴 Lǐ Chūnxìng] shared any information…

…But because the guilty plea he entered in federal court in Alexandria describes the information involved as “secret” rather than “top secret,” his recommended sentence will be significantly lower.



Sinica Podcast: Strength in Numbers: USTR veteran Wendy Cutler on managing trade with China

This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy chat with Wendy Cutler, vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute, about a new paper she has authored that calls for coordination between the U.S. and other countries in managing issues related to China trade. She makes the case for working through the WTO and other multilateral organizations, and explains why China is more apt to respond more positively to multilateral over bi- or unilateral approaches.