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39 Chinese nationals found dead in truck in England


Dear Access member,

Our Red Papers and SupChina Direct Conference Calls are now available for Access members to read, listen to, and download from a single folder on Google Drive. Click here to view it

A few job postings you may be interested in:

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Finally, we are having a video launch on our Youtube channel tomorrow at 10 a.m. EST. Click here to check it out and watch when it goes live. It is our most detailed explainer video yet, on the NBA-China controversy and how and why other American brands have gotten in trouble with Beijing. 

—Lucas Niewenhuis, Associate Editor


Police at the scene where bodies were discovered in a truck container, in Grays, Essex, Britain. October 23, 2019. Reuters / Peter Nicholls

1. Truck with 39 dead apparent Chinese nationals found in Essex, U.K.

The BBC reports that a refrigerated trailer with 39 dead bodies, all apparently Chinese nationals, has been found in Essex, in southeast England. 

Three properties in Northern Ireland [where the truck driver is from] have been raided and the National Crime Agency is working to establish if “organised crime groups” were involved… 

Essex Police said it was the largest murder investigation in the force’s history and the victims were all “believed to be Chinese nationals”.

It said formal identification of the 39 people, one of whom is a young adult woman, “could be a lengthy process”.

China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming tweeted that the embassy had read the reports of the deaths “with heavy hearts” and was in close contact with British police.

Liu has since added that “local police…are verifying the identity of the 39 deceased, whose nationality still cannot be confirmed.”

The Guardian has the most detailed report on the exact route of the truck from Zeebrugge, Belgium, to the U.K., and the history of human trafficking across that border. 

Other media reports on the tragedy:

2. Ilham Tohti wins European Parliament’s top human rights prize

Like the U.S., European countries are getting tougher on human rights in China. The most significant signs of that this year both happened this month, with two human rights awards for jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti. Deutsche Welle reports:

The European Parliament on Thursday awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti

Tohti is an economist fighting for the rights of China’s Uighur minority and the implementation of regional autonomy laws in China. In 2014 the human rights defender was sentenced to life imprisonment for separatism-related charges.

The EU’s top human rights award will be presented on December 18 at a ceremony in the French city of Strasbourg.

Earlier this month, Tohti received the Council of Europe’s Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize.

The Sakharov Prize is the European Parliament’s top human rights prize, while the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded by the Council of Europe, which is separate from formal European Union bureaucratic structures but has a large overlap in country memberships and associations

To learn more about the work of Ilham Tohti and his reputation among intellectuals in China, see Ian Johnson’s 2014 piece in the New York Review of Books, titled ‘They don’t want moderate Uighurs.’

3. Pence says NBA censorship is ‘un-American,’ and denies decoupling with China

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech today in Washington, D.C., on U.S.-China relations, following up on his China bash-fest from October 2018. This year’s speech, which was originally expected to be highly critical of China, was reportedly delayed from this summer because of hope for progress — later dashed — in trade talks. 

The final speech was notably less a litany of complaints about China than the speech a year ago, and had a much more heavy focus on Trump love than China hate. In fact, some of Pence’s harshest words were reserved for the NBA and affiliated brands.

The speech began not that differently from last year. Here are excerpts from the full transcript per the White House:

  • Pence listed “Beijing’s policies most harmful to America’s interests and values” as “China’s debt diplomacy and military expansionism; its repression of people of faith; construction of a surveillance state; and, of course, to China’s arsenal of policies inconsistent with free and fair trade, including tariffs, quotas, currency manipulation, forced technology transfer, and industrial subsidies.”

  • “As President Trump has said many times, we rebuilt China over the last 25 years. No truer words were spoken, but those days are over,” Pence said, blithely dismissing the roles of markets and trade with countries other than the U.S., and the efforts of Chinese people themselves. 

  • “Millions of ethnic and religious minorities in China are struggling against the Party’s efforts to eradicate their religious and cultural identities. The Communist Party in China has arrested Christian pastors, banned the sale of Bibles, demolished churches, and imprisoned more than one million Muslim Uighurs.”

  • Pence cited complaints about intellectual property, fentanyl, and the export of surveillance equipment. He repeated complaints about China’s alleged “debt diplomacy,” despite a lack of evidence to back up those assertions. He also added the insinuation, “It is reported that Beijing is even eyeing locations on the Atlantic Ocean that could serve as naval facilities.” 

But the most important part of the speech was the second half, which will also likely generate the most headlines. 

On Hong Kong

  • “Hong Kong is a living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty.” 

  • “I’m pleased to observe that Hong Kong authorities have withdrawn the extradition bill that sparked the protests in the first place, and Beijing has shown some restraint.”

  • But Pence also urged restraint from the protesters: “To the millions in Hong Kong who have been peacefully demonstrating to protect your rights these past months, we stand with you. We are inspired by you, and we urge you to stay on the path of nonviolent protest.”

On censorship and the NBA

  • China has been “trying to export censorship” lately, Pence said, as “far too many American multinational corporations have kowtowed to the lure of China’s money and markets by muzzling…criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.”

  • He then went directly after Nike: “Nike promotes itself as a so called ‘social justice champion,’ but when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door. Nike stores in China actually removed their Houston Rockets merchandise from their shelves to join the Chinese government in protest against the Rockets general manager.” 

  • “In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime.”

  • “When American corporations, professional sports, pro athletes embrace censorship, it’s not just wrong; it’s un-American. American corporations should stand up for American values here at home and around the world.”

  • Pence then pulled out the same “either you’re with Trump or you’re with China” argument that his speech was criticized for last year: “Beijing’s economic and strategic actions, its attempts to shape American public opinion, prove out what I said a year ago and it’s just as true today: China wants a different American President, which is the ultimate proof that President Trump’s leadership is working.”

On “containment” and “decoupling”

  • “We are not seeking to contain China’s development,” Pence insisted. “We want a constructive relationship with China’s leaders, like we have enjoyed for generations with China’s people.”

  • Later in the speech, he also specifically denied that the Trump administration seeks to “decouple” from China, and said that the “United States seeks engagement with China, and China’s engagement with the wider world.” 

  • “All that Beijing is doing today, from the Party’s great firewall in cyberspace or to that great wall of sand in the South China Sea, from their distrust of Hong Kong’s autonomy, or their repression of people of faith all demonstrate that it’s the Chinese Communist Party that has been ‘de-coupling’ from the wider world for decades.”

There are two good reasons why China hawks may be unconvinced that Pence’s words denying containment or decoupling are sincere. 

  • One is that other top officials, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have recently made comments that their goal is “ensuring that China retains only its proper place in the world.”

  • Another is that Pence’s comments come right before an expected partial trade deal, so it may be seen as “merely the teaspoon of sugar that makes the medicine go down,” according to economist Patrick Chovanec

4. Phase One trade deal as underwhelming as expected

Bloomberg reports some details on the partial “Phase One” trade deal that President Trump hopes to sign with Xi Jinping during the APEX summit in Chile on November 16–17. 

China aims to buy at least $20 billion of agricultural products in a year if it signs a partial trade deal with the U.S., and would consider boosting purchases further in future rounds of talks, people familiar with the matter said.

That would take China’s imports of U.S. farm goods back to around 2017 levels, before Trump began a tit-for-tat tariff feud with Beijing. In the second year of a potential final deal, purchases could rise to $40 billion to $50 billion. But that would depend on Trump removing remaining punitive tariffs, said the people, who asked not to be named because talks are private.

Trump had previously boasted of a “tremendous deal for the farmers,” which would result in purchases of “40 to 50 billion dollars’ worth of agricultural products.” He advertised that as “two and a half, three times what China had purchased at its highest point thus far. So, they were purchasing $16 or $17 billion at the highest point, and that’ll be brought up to $40 billion to $50 billion.” 

But Trump had never specified a time frame for the reported $40 to $50 billion. If it is over multiple years, that means that American farmers are not getting anything better than if the trade war had never happened in the first place. 

Other news items about the Phase One deal, per Peter “Ron Vara” Navarro, the top trade advisor to Donald Trump:

  • The “phase one [deal adopts] virtually the entire chapter in the deal last May that they reneged on for IP,” he claimed in an interview, per Reuters.

  • Navarro did not deny that Joe Biden, the political rival of Trump, may have come up in trade talks with China, in an awkward exchange with Jim Sciutto of CNN

5. Feminist activist Huang Xueqin is detained for ‘picking quarrels’ 

The South China Morning Post reports:

A leading Chinese feminist has been arrested in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou for allegedly disturbing public order, sources familiar with the case said on Thursday.

Two sources said Sophia Huáng Xuěqín 黄雪琴, a key figure in the #MeToo movement in China, was formally arrested a week ago on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – an offence often used by police to detain dissidents and social activists, and that can attract a prison sentence of up to five years.

Free Chinese Feminists added on Twitter:

On June 11th Huang revealed that her family was harassed after she posted an article on HK protest when she was visiting HKU [University of Hong Kong]. After she went back to Guangzhou this August, Huang was once being summoned by the police for 24 hours and got her passport confiscated.

—Lucas Niewenhuis


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

The government-run Xinhua News Agency reported that it had taken Tesla just 168 working days, about six months, to go from permits to hooking up the electricity to the brand new plant. 

“This is quite fast, even by Chinese standards,” says Ivan Su, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. Musk has predicted that his company will be producing at least 1,000 cars a week in Shanghai by the end of the year, a volume the company’s original factory in California spent months trying to hit. On Oct. 23, Tesla said it had begun producing “full vehicles on a trail basis.”

Google raced past China this week in the quest for “quantum supremacy” with its claim that a machine developed by the company can solve a problem in 200 seconds that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years.

But just as the Soviet Union was the first to put both a satellite and a human being into orbit, before going on to lose the space race, China may be poised to outstrip any American achievements in a specific field of quantum technology — communication.

  • Huawei developing radar products for autonomous cars
    Huawei sets sights on self-driving car radar / Caixin Live
    “As if 5G and smartphones weren’t enough, telecom giant Huawei has decided it’s getting into the self-driving car business too. The besieged company is revving up to develop millimeter-wave and laser radar products for use in autonomous cars, as global carmakers and tech companies invest heavily in vehicles that can drive by themselves.”

  • A pharma fortune is passed down
    Chinese pharma moguls gift 24-year-old son $3.8 billion in share capital / Bloomberg via Caixin
    “One of China’s richest families just gave their 24-year-old son a $3.8 billion gift. The founder of Sino Biopharmaceutical and his wife are transferring about a fifth of the company’s share capital to their son Eric Tse, making him one of the world’s richest people overnight.”

  • Rise of the superrich Chinese
    Wealthy Chinese outnumber wealthy Americans for the first time / CNN

A new report from Credit Suisse (CS) shows that wealth in China is ticking up, and the country now accounts for 100 million of the richest 10% of people in the world. There are 99 million Americans in the same category.

The United States still has many more millionaires — 18.6 million, or 40% of the world’s total, versus 4.4 million in China.

In the midst of rising Western criticism and a trade war with the United States, China significantly accelerated the number of reforms it carried out this year or has planned for next, according to a World Bank report published on Thursday.

This “eagerness to reform” has seen China jump from 45th to 31st in the ease of doing business index, the World Bank said in its 2020 “Doing Business” report.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

In an action plan for October 2019 to March 2020, China said 28 smog-prone northern cities, including the capital Beijing, would have to curb emissions of lung-damaging small particles known as PM2.5 by an average of 4% from a year ago…

However, the targeted decrease is 1.5 percentage points lower than an earlier draft, and would not be enough to reverse a 6.5% surge throughout the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region over the same period last year…

This year’s lowered ambitions mean that as many as 15 of the 28 cities could have higher levels of smog than two years ago, even if they meet their targets, said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst with Greenpeace.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Although the present snapshot of Taiwan’s situation certainly looks troubling, I still believe there are good reasons to resist impulses toward drawing dark conclusions about Taiwan’s future. Here’s why:

First, despite its recent setbacks, the United States still maintains the most capable fighting force in the history of humankind. Beijing certainly understands this fact.

Second, Taiwan enjoys strong support in the United States Congress, in the American policymaking community, and across the United States…

Third, even if President Trump is unorthodox, the American people remain pragmatic…

Fourth, Taiwan is a vibrant, dynamic society and economy located in the heart of the fastest growing region in the world. With a highly educated and hard-working population, a strong innovation base, and access to substantial capital, Taiwan is poised for future economic growth.

Chinese runners in the middle-distance competition on Sunday initially came first, second, and fourth among the women and second among the men.

However, it was soon discovered that the runners had received illegal assistance from spectators and used markings and small paths prepared in the terrain that only their team was aware of, the International Orienteering Federation (IOF), whose rules govern the competition, said.

Competitors are meant to use only a map and compass to complete the course. IOF officials investigated the results after protests from rivals including Russia, Switzerland, France, Poland and Austria, and a jury decided to void the Chinese team’s results and ban them from other races. Organisers rejected an appeal from the Chinese athletes.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has signed a new deal with the Chinese Government to deepen the state’s engagement with the controversial Belt and Road initiative… 

Foreign policy doesn’t usually fall under the jurisdiction of state governments, but essentially it will mean a bigger market to sell wine, beef and lamb, as well as an opportunity for Victorian institutions to teach future Chinese doctors… 

…Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has led criticism of the Victorian deal with China, questioning why the Premier believes the decision is in the national interest.

The quest for exploiting seabed minerals, such as polymetallic nodules containing nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese is driven by demand for smart phones and electric car batteries, and the need to diversify supply.

The [International Seabed Authority] has already signed 30 contracts with governments, research institutions and commercial entities for exploration phase, with China holding the most, five contracts.

Japanese media reported the detained man appears to be a professor at Hokkaido University and he is believed to have been accused of espionage.

“We strongly request China take positive actions on a Japanese man detained,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters when asked about the meeting between Abe and Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan in Tokyo on Wednesday.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

  • The Ancient Tea Horse Road
    From caravan to cup / Institute of Current World Affairs
    Yunnan-based writer and SupChina contributor Matthew Chitwood visits Lincang Prefecture, which “produces roughly a third of all tea in Yunnan.” The “local government is trying to raise its profile with projects like a tea museum and the Ancient Tea Horse Village.” 

  • Indie movie theaters
    The surprising rise of arthouse movie theaters in China / Radii China
    “According to a source close to the [China Film Archive], the latest number of theaters that have signed with [Nationwide Alliance of Arthouse Cinema] is 3,020, across 333 cities, with a total of 3,617 screens. In accordance with the agreement, these theaters are expected to screen at least three arthouse films per day, and to save 10 primetime slots per week for arthouse films appointed by the NAAC.”

  • Urban photography
    The artist snapping China’s alienated young clubbers / Sixth Tone
    An article about the “photography series ‘Noon Club’ by Chen Wei, a Chinese artist who has spent much of his career trying to capture the restlessness of life in modern Beijing. For Chen, China’s contradictory capital — oppressive and alienating, yet a magnet for young creatives — creates a subconscious tension in the minds of those who flock there, which comes to light after dark.”

The highly anticipated teen drama “Better Days” is set to hit theaters on the Chinese mainland Friday after having its previously planned premiere canceled in June… 

The director of “Better Days” — Hong Kong’s Tsang Kwok-cheung, also known as Derek Tsang — has yet to comment publicly on the release… 

“Better Days” — an adaptation of the popular online novel, “In His Youth, In Her Beauty” — shows the relationship between top student Chen Nian and student athlete Bei Ye and how a bullying incident shapes their fates. It features 27-year-old “Soul Mate” star Zhou Dongyu and 18-year-old singer Yi Yangqianxi — also known as Jackson Yee, of the popular boy band TFBoys — as Chen and Bei, respectively.


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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.