China detains FedEx pilot

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Dear Access member,

Born in Taipei 103 years ago, writer and activist Su Beng (史明 Shǐ Míng) died today in the city of his birth. 

Su became an idealistic young Marxist in the late 1930s and left for wartime China, where he served as an agent for Mao’s Communists. He returned in 1949 to Taiwan, where he opposed both the CPC and the KMT government there. He served, until today, as a senior adviser to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén).

Taiwan-based journalist Chris Horton interviewed Su in March this year. We’ll be publishing a profile of Su — sadly, now also an obituary — tomorrow on SupChina.com. 

It might amuse you to know that China Books Review has, through some big data alchemy, decided that I am the most influential person who tweets about China in English. The Sinica Podcast’s Kaiser Kuo is number 10. Now if only I could influence Donald Trump and Xí Jìnpíng 习近平.

The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations is seeking a digital content manager to oversee the organization’s social and digital media platforms, website, and external communications. Click here to learn more.

Our word of the day is FedEx (联邦快递 liánbāng kuàidì).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


1. China detains FedEx pilot, as Chinese delegation heads home from D.C. 

“Chinese authorities have detained a FedEx Corp. pilot in the southern city of Guangzhou, elevating pressure on the express shipping giant that is already in Beijing’s crosshairs amid a U.S.-China trade war,” reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall). 

The pilot, a former U.S. Air Force colonel named Todd A. Hohn, was detained a week ago while waiting for a commercial flight to his home in Hong Kong after flying deliveries throughout Asia from the FedEx regional hub in Guangzhou, people familiar with the matter said…

When he was detained, Mr. Hohn was carrying nonmetallic pellets used in low-power replica air guns in a checked bag, the people said. Chinese authorities have alleged that Mr. Hohn was illegally transporting ammunition and have begun a criminal investigation, the people said.

In June, FedEx apologized “after it misrouted some of Huawei Technologies’ packages.” Since then, the Chinese police have “said they were investigating the company over the discovery of a gun in a package sent from the U.S. to China.” Earlier this month, state media reported on an investigation into FedEx for allegedly illegally shipping knives to Hong Kong. 

This news is not going to reassure the growing number of multinational executives who are rethinking their China travel plans. Earlier this week, we noted reports that another Taiwanese citizen had been detained in China in murky circumstances. Meanwhile, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained on spurious charges, without access to lawyers or family members, for 284 days. 

In other news from the U.S.-China techno-trade war, day 442:

“Stocks fell to their lows of the day on Friday on news that Chinese trade officials are cutting short their visit to the U.S.,” according to CNBC:

A China delegation had canceled a visit to U.S. farms in Montana, the Montana Farm Bureau said around midday Friday. Nicole Rolf, the Bureau’s director of national affairs said the officials were headed back to China earlier than planned. 

“The Trump administration has excluded Christmas tree lights, a series of pet supplies, plastic drinking straws and hundreds of other products from a 25 percent duty President Donald Trump imposed on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, according to three notices set to be published in the Federal Register on Friday,” reports Politico. Although the move comes in advance of the trade talks planned for early October, “the exclusions are less about placating Beijing than they are an effort to provide relief to some U.S. companies.”

China has green-lighted eight Argentine meat plants for beef exports, according to Reuters. Former Mexican ambassador to China Jorge Guajardo tweeted in response

When Mexico signed an import-export protocol of pork meat with China in ‘08, China took more than 6 years to inspect and green light Mexican plants. Clearly they’re fast-tracking the process to substitute U.S. exports. These are markets the U.S. will never get back.

DJI is the target: “A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday that would bar federal agencies from buying drones from China and any other country deemed a national-security risk,” reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall).  

Huawei’s attorneys have argued in a U.S. District Court that certain portions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 — specifically, the ones used to ban it from doing business with U.S. government agencies — are unconstitutional, reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall). 

U.S. tech bans a boon for Huawei’s Chinese suppliers: “Huawei’s 5G ambitions will lead it to rely heavily on companies like Jiangsu-based WUS Printed Circuit Kunshan Co. and Shenzhen-based Shennan Circuits Co. to produce its needed circuit boards,” reports Bloomberg (porous paywall).

Other American moves that will annoy Beijing: “U.S. lawmakers have unveiled new legislation that would prohibit Beijing from opening any new consulates on American soil until the U.S. is permitted to establish its own diplomatic office in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa [and] lays out a path for punishing Chinese officials who interfere with the Dalai Lama’s succession plans,” reports the South China Morning Post. Meanwhile, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, having just been condemned by Beijing for meeting Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong (黄之锋 Huáng Zhīfēng), this morning tweeted

It was an honor to welcome my dear friend, Rebiya Kadeer, an advocate and leader on behalf of the Uyghur people, to the U.S. Capitol today to discuss her missing family members and the conditions facing her people.

2. ‘Community dialogue’ in Hong Kong, but no concessions?

“Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam will meet the public next Thursday for a two-hour ‘community dialogue’ session, after promising to build a platform earlier this month for exchanging views on the political crisis,” reports Hong Kong Free Press

Lam will meet 150 members of the public, who will be chosen randomly from a pool of applicants. Hong Kong identity cardholders are eligible to apply for the event, either through an online form or at Home Affairs Enquiry Centres.

“The session will be an open dialogue platform aimed at reaching out to the public to invite people from all walks of life to express their views to the Government, so as to fathom the discontent in society and to look for solutions,” the administration wrote in a notice.

Lam on Tuesday proposed three types of dialogue events: one would allow the public to sign up, while the remaining two types would be invitation-only group discussions.

It’s hard to see what this will achieve: The protesters have made their “five key demands” very clear. Especially when “Hong Kong’s government doesn’t see any benefit in conceding to more demands from protesters,” according to a top adviser to leader Carrie Lam cited by Bloomberg (porous paywall).

Radical demonstrators — some of whom have lobbed petrol bombs at police and vandalized subway stations in recent weeks — won’t give up their struggle even if the government meets all of their demands, said Bernard Chan [ 陳智思 Chén Zhìsī], convener of the city’s Executive Council.  

Other news from the City of Protest:

“Hong Kong’s leaders are out of touch with the people and have been slow to respond to their needs, according to former World Bank president Robert Zoellick,” says the South China Morning Post. “The former top US trade official said the city was in a ‘dangerous situation’ and any further escalation of its violent protests could also worsen China’s tensions with the United States.” 

“A pro-Beijing Hong Kong lawmaker [Junius Ho 何君堯 Hé Jūnyáo] urged supporters to pull down ‘Lennon Walls’ on Saturday across the Chinese-ruled city, where the displays of anti-government graffiti have sometimes been flashpoints during more than three months of unrest,” reports Reuters

“Hong Kong has seen an unprecedented wave of doxxing — the malicious spread of private information online — since anti-government protests began in early June,” according to the Guardian:

Social media forums such as LIHKG, a Reddit-like website, and encrypted apps such as Telegram have played a critical role in organizing the leaderless protest movement but are now being used to share names, photos, phone numbers, ages and the occupation of individuals on both sides of the protest line.

“Where you eat and drink is a political choice in Hong Kong,” tweeted Quartz reporter Mary Hui. “There’s a nifty site, complete with an interactive map [in Chinese], showing which stores are blue (pro-government) and yellow (anti-government, pro-democracy).”

Hong Kong’s unrest is spilling over onto New York campuses, says the New York Times (porous paywall): “Tensions are mounting among students, as pro-democracy activists remain energized but many from mainland China feel muffled.” 

Sonic weapons coming to Hong Kong? “China has developed the world’s first portable sonic gun for riot control, the Chinese Academy of Sciences said,” reports the South China Morning Post: “The rifle-shaped instrument, which was jointly developed with military and law enforcement, is designed to disperse crowds using focused waves of low frequency sound.”

—Jeremy Goldkorn

3. Kiribati formally switches recognition from Taiwan to China

Kiribati has become the second Pacific island nation in a week to break ties with Taiwan in favor of China, leaving Taiwan with only 15 countries left in the world that recognize Taiwan diplomatically. The decision seems connected to the Solomon Islands’ formal decision on Monday to break ties with Taiwan.  

Will China nab another Pacific nation this year? Quite possibly.

“A flurry of defections would indicate a deliberate effort by P.R.C., presumably to harm Tsai’s re-election chances,” tweeted scholar Jonathan Sullivan. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) faces Han Kuo-yu (韩国瑜 Hán Guóyú) of the traditionally pro-unification Kuomintang party, who favors a reset in cross-strait relations. 

—Daniel Schoolenberg


Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • Protests passed their 100th day in Hong Kong. In a sign of how the city has changed, the South China Morning Post published a helpful interview with a doctor about what to do after you get tear gassed. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é) insisted that her public dialogue platform launching next week is “not a sort of one-off gimmick.” Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Denise Ho sought out another kind of dialogue, as they testified before the U.S. Congress, and U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. 

  • The decentralized nature of protesters was explained by Maciej Cegłowski, proprietor of the website bookmarking service Pinboard, even as the New York Times and NPR investigated the highly coordinated activity of Chinese state-controlled bots on Twitter. 

  • The Beijing 2022 Olympics have mascots: Bing Dwen Dwen (冰墩墩 bīng dūndūn), a panda who looks totally spaced out, and Shuey Rhon Rhon (雪容融 xuě róngróng), a red lantern baby, will represent the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, respectively. 

  • China is responsible for a cyber attack on the Australian parliament and three political parties, according to Australia’s cyber intelligence agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, Reuters reported. But the Australian government reportedly covered up the attack “to avoid disrupting trade relations with Beijing.” Meanwhile, in New Zealand, it was revealed that the Auckland Confucius Institute was “acting as a conduit between the University of Auckland and the Chinese Consulate-General,” in one of several recent stories that is pushing Kiwis closer to an Australian level of China skepticism. 

  • The Solomon Islands ditched Taiwan, after weeks of speculation. After Kiribati also switched its relations to Beijing later this week, Taiwan only counts four Pacific island nations among its 15 remaining diplomatic partners: Tuvalu, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru. 

  • Another Taiwanese citizen has been detained in China, this time, a person with a Ph.D. degree from Xiamen University who was heavily involved in promoting closer cross-strait relations. Previously in 2017, Lee Ming-che (李明哲 Lǐ Míngzhé), a democracy activist, was detained, and he remains locked up today. 

  • State media employees are to be tested for loyalty, via the “Xi Study Strong Nation” (学习强国 xué xí qiángguó) app on Xi Jinping Thought, according to the South China Morning Post. Meanwhile, a campaign to “raise people’s sense of fulfillment, happiness and security in cyberspace” focuses on — what else? — spreading Xi Jinping Thought. 

  • China tapped its “strategic pork reserve,” releasing 10,000 metric tons of pork in an attempt to stop the dramatic rise in the price of China’s favorite meat. 

  • Global Times editor Hú Xījìn 胡锡进 criticized censorship on Weibo. The post was quickly deleted. 

  • The sexist music of Yán Lìfēi 闫立飞, whose titles include such gender-stereotype-reinforcing hits as “Mom, Don’t Go to Work,” was loudly criticized by Chinese internet users

  • Five human rights groups asked UN Secretary General António Guterres to condemn the Xinjiang abuses. Guterres responded, but somehow avoided using any of the relevant terms, including Uyghur, Muslims, detention, surveillance, or even Xinjiang.

  • U.S.-China trade talks resumed at the deputy level, as a delegation of about 30 Chinese officials led by Vice Finance Minister Liào Mín 廖岷 flew to Washington, D.C. Talks are said to focus heavily on prospective agricultural purchases by China, and there is a questionably high level of optimism that a limited, interim trade deal could be reached next month. 

  • State media co-opted the term flash mob to refer to a crowd in Shanghai that “chorused patriotic songs” while Xinhua photographers were conveniently present to document the spontaneous patriotism. 

  • Nick Pollard, the Westminster whisperer of CGTN, quit his job this week over concerns about the broadcaster’s impartiality in covering the Hong Kong protests.

  • Boeing is betting that China will buy thousands of its aircrafts in the coming decades, but its hopes may be slightly misplaced, as Beijing is increasing its pressure on domestic airlines to use homegrown jets instead. 

  • TikTok may soon encounter serious headwinds in the U.S., as a Washington Post report found that all mention of the Hong Kong protests was curiously absent from the platform, despite their ubiquity on other social media platforms. 

  • An investigation into the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao (趙小蘭 Zhào Xiǎolán), was kicked off by the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, following reporting from the New York Times that raised ethics questions about Chao’s family and business connections in China. 

  • The “AI classrooms,” where students wear brainwave-reading devices to supposedly monitor attention levels, were the subject of a fascinating Wall Street Journal video report (no paywall). 


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

China Investment Corp., the nation’s $941 billion sovereign wealth fund, reported a 2.35 percent loss on its overseas investments last year amid tumbling global equity markets.

Chairman Péng Chūn 彭春 didn’t strike an optimistic note about the future either, telling reporters in Beijing that the investing environment is “more difficult” this year due to rising asset-price volatility, unilateralism, slowing global growth and tighter regulatory scrutiny on foreign investments.

The majority of EU citizens believe China’s “aggressive competitive practices” are a threat to their economic interests, a new survey has claimed.

In a report published Thursday, the thinktank the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) found that 57 percent of Europeans felt their country’s economy, and the wider European economy, were being insufficiently protected by lawmakers from Chinese trade practices.

The report (PDF of full text here) says, rather uncontroversially that “China needs to foster new drivers of growth to address productivity challenges, intensify reforms and promote greater innovation in the economy.” But the Washington Post revealed back in March that the report had actually been ready for the past year — the Chinese authorities prevented its release, objecting to some of its points.

The Economist notes (porous paywall) that the report and the circumstances surrounding its release “highlights a basic challenge for any external actor in China today: how to convey new ideas and criticism to a government that is increasingly set in its ways.” 

Despite weaker revenue growth in the second quarter of 2019, the last six weeks have seen a rebound in Chinese stocks. Bloomberg says investors are coming to appreciate companies that can manage costs and embrace a new, “low-growth paradigm.”

Beijing has announced one of the most significant developments in its Social Credit System ahead of a planned nationwide rollout of its controversial behavioral engineering system pegged for 2020.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) circulated a statement saying it is pushing ahead with a corporate ranking system that will affect 33 million companies.

Since the start of the year, there has been a record sell-off of global assets by Chinese companies totaling about $40 billion, according to data from Dealogic. At the same time, the pace of acquisitions has slowed to just $35 billion, as businesses worry about being labeled speculative buyers. It is the first time in a decade that Chinese companies are net sellers of global assets.

China announced a marginal 5-point cut to its new Loan Prime Rate (LPR) on Friday. With the Fed cutting its own interest rates on Wednesday, analysts were watching for any move by China to follow suit. But this cut was comparably smaller than easings in the U.S., Reuters notes, “suggesting Chinese policymakers remain reluctant to join a global stimulus wave due to worries about mounting debt.”

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

Almost a decade in the making, the nearly $30 billion Haoji Railway will start around the end of this month and eventually haul as much as 200 million tons [of coal] from key producing regions in the north to consumers in the south.  

“Coal will remain a dominant source of power in the next 10 years, even though it’s being gradually replaced by new energy,” said…an analyst at Everbright Sun Hung Kai Co. in Beijing.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Uyghurs living abroad have started to hear reports of family members being arrested and jailed on suspicion of financing terrorism after sending money to relatives abroad. Those relatives have also had their savings and assets confiscated by the state, they say.

This new and alarming effort appears aimed at keeping Uyghurs in China from having any contact with their family members beyond the country’s borders, analysts say.

“This is the first I’ve heard of this,” said Rian Thum, who specializes in Uyghur history at the University of Nottingham and has been monitoring the crackdown in Xinjiang. “This shows that there has not been any letup or any softening of the policy of pursuing Uyghurs who have any connection with the outside world.”

Sri Lankan presidential nominee Gotabaya Rajapaksa would “restore relations” with the country’s top lender China if he wins the November 16 vote and met with a senior Chinese official this week, according to an adviser and his spokesman.

China and Sri Lanka’s already strained relations took a further blow on Monday when President Maithripala Sirisena alleged corruption at a Chinese company contracted to build the Lotus Tower, South Asia’s tallest tower. A Sri Lankan parliamentary panel said it would investigate…

“I suppose the thinking was if we upset China, the West would come to us with endless bags of gold… But the bags of gold never materialized,” [said Rajapaksa’s adviser].

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

According to official figures, of the nearly 80,000 students who applied for places at public secondary schools in Shenzhen last year, just 35,000 were accepted. That left the parents of the remainder having no option but to pay for places at private schools in the city or, in some cases, send their children overseas to study.

Twenty-five years ago today, on the morning of September 20, 1994, Tián Míngjiàn 田明建, a seriously disgruntled PLA officer gunned down 17 people in the center of Beijing including Iranian diplomat Yousef Mohammadi Pishknari and Pishknari’s 9-year-old son. Over 70 people were injured in the gun battle between Tian and Beijing police and army units. The terror ended when Tian was shot by a sniper.


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