Simon Cheng says China tortured him as U.S. Senate passes Hong Kong bill

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Tomorrow is our NEXT China conference in New York. If you are there, please come and say hi. If you can’t attend, we will publish interviews with our guest speakers and other material from the conference over the next week or so. 

There will, however, NOT be a newsletter tomorrow, unless a huge story breaks. We’ll be back in your inbox on Friday evening in New York / early morning on Saturday in Beijing.

Our word of the day is torture (拷打 kǎodǎ).  

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Screenshot from BBC interview

1. Simon Cheng says China tortured him 

Simon Cheng Man-kit (郑文杰 Zhèng Wénjié), a former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong who was detained by Chinese security forces in August, has broken his silence with a statement on Facebook, and interviews with the BBC and the Telegraph (paywall). 

Cheng says he was tortured, interrogated, and coerced into making a confession that he had solicited prostitutes. His description sounds familiar to anyone who has experienced the nightmare of being jailed in China when politics is involved. From the Telegraph piece:

Mr Cheng’s account, however, is similar to what former detainees, including political dissidents, have recounted to the Telegraph in previous interviews. 

“The abuse described by Mr Cheng is the norm of Chinese police behaviour,” said Peter Humphrey, 63, a Briton who vanished himself inside China in 2013 for nearly two years and forced to confess to crimes he denies. 

The British government has summoned the Chinese ambassador over the “brutal” treatment of Cheng, reports RTHK:

“Simon Cheng was a valued member of our team. We were shocked and appalled by the mistreatment he suffered while in Chinese detention, which amounts to torture,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

Other news from the City of Protest:

“Hong Kong had a rare day and evening of relative calm on Wednesday after more than a week of violence in multiple locations, including the fierce clashes at Polytechnic University, where 100 protesters are still defying surrender despite repeated pleas for them to leave the campus,” says the South China Morning Post.  

“Hong Kong’s legal scholars have warned Beijing’s latest statement suggesting the city’s courts cannot rule on constitutional matters could spell the end of ‘one country, two systems,’ even as pro-establishment heavyweights sought to placate such fears,” according to the South China Morning Post. Or as the New York Times put it: In warning to Hong Kong’s courts, China shows who is boss (porous paywall). 

The protesters whom the Chinese government calls “radicals” call themselves “frontliners” (前線示威者 qiánxiàn shìwēizhě), and they are the subject of this video documentary from Popular Front

2. U.S. Senate passes Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 

CNBC reports:

China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday criticized the U.S. after the Senate unanimously passed a bill supporting Hong Kong protesters.

The “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” interferes in China’s domestic affairs, said foreign ministry spokesperson Gěng Shuǎng 耿爽 , according to an online statement in Chinese.

China “strongly condemns and resolutely opposes” [in Chinese] the act of interference, Geng said hours after the bill was passed.

That bill now proceeds to the House, which already approved its own version of the bill in October. The two chambers of Congress have to work out differences between their bills before it can be sent to President Donald Trump.

The upper house of Congress also passed a separate bill banning certain munition exports to the Hong Kong police.

Another statement published in Xinhua (in Chinese) says the Chinese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Mǎ Zhāoxù 马朝旭 had summoned William Klein, the U.S. embassy’s minister counselor for political affairs, and warned him that if the Act passes, “China will take effective measures to retaliate, and all consequences will be fully borne by the U.S.”

3. Traditional Chinese medicine schools removed from global medical school directory

Eight Chinese medical schools that specialize in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have been removed from the World Directory of Medical Schools, a country-by-country listing of institutions approved by the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).

  • Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (BUCM) and Shanghai University of Chinese Medicine (SUCM), two of the oldest and most reputable TCM schools, were among the delisted. 

  • Some students at these schools have already felt the effects of the removal. One BUCM graduate told China News Weekly (in Chinese) that she was ineligible to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), a three-step exam for medical licensure in the U.S., because her school was no longer on the list. Some of her classmates who had already taken the exam received notices from the test organizer saying that their scores would not be delivered. 

  • Contacted by Chinese blog DeepTech, David Gordon, the president of WFME, clarified (in Chinese) that the decision was made after years of deliberate consideration and internal debates about how to incorporate TCM schools into the list. He noted that BUCM, by definition, is a “TCM school,” which means it can’t be appropriately accredited. Gordon also mentioned that there were examples of Chinese graduates from those universities not disclosing their TCM background and successfully becoming doctors in foreign countries, which he regarded as fraudulent. 

  • A school official at Tianjin University of Chinese Medicine, which was also delisted, told China News Weekly that the decision revealed the poor understanding of TCM. He stressed that TCM was a “mainstream medical practice” in China and had formed an “independent and comprehensive system” of its own. 

  • Though it’s been around for centuries, TCM has become a hot-button issue in recent years largely due to the increasingly aggressive endorsement by the Chinese government, which has been trying to promote the use of the remedies despite a lack of scientific evidence to prove their safety and effectiveness.

Please click through to SupChina for a longer version of this story, including a summary of social media responses to the news. 

4. The trade war clown show goes on

It is not pointed out enough what a clown show the U.S.-China trade talks are. Today’s news:

The “Trump administration is standing firm on China making large agricultural purchases, while Beijing insists on the removal of tariffs,” says the Wall Street Journal (paywall), noting that the stalled U.S.-China trade talks have raised “the threat of another impasse.”

“Chinese officials and state-run media were silent this week even after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened for the second time in a week to ‘raise the tariffs even higher’ on Chinese imports if a trade deal cannot be reached, casting further uncertainty on the ‘phase one’ trade agreement he announced in October,” reports the South China Morning Post.

The near-deal between the U.S. and China that fell apart six months ago is now being used as the benchmark to decide how much tariffs should be rolled back in the initial phase of a broader trade agreement, according to Bloomberg (porous paywall). 

Other news from various fronts of the U.S.-China techno-trade war, day 503:

Have we reached peak China? The Financial Times says (paywall) the country’s “position as the leading global exporter for the past two decades has been dealt a blow after it lost ground to the U.S. in the first six months of this year.”

America became the bigger supplier out of the two superpowers to eight countries over the first half, including France, Austria, Zimbabwe and Lebanon. China added just three entries to the list of countries where its exports eclipse the US: Bhutan, Luxembourg and Venezuela. The shift has raised the prospect that China has reached the limits of its global trade domination, allowing others, including the U.S. and India, to increase their shares.  

The American state of Georgia’s wood industry “has been whipsawed” by the trade war with China, says the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Georgia is a major player in softwood and hardwood, boasting more acres of forest than any other state east of the Mississippi and employing more than 50,000 workers. But the weight of the tariffs has cracked the industry, with some businesses laying off workers, freezing investments and losing millions of dollars in sales. 

5. China rebukes Zimbabwe for undercounting financial aid

From the Africa China Project

A very public rift broke out on Tuesday between China and Zimbabwe over how much financial assistance Beijing provides to Harare. 

It all began last Thursday when Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said in a budget statement that Zimbabwe had received a total of $194 million from bilateral donors, mostly from U.S./EU countries.

Only $3.6 million was listed as aid from China.

Well, that didn’t go down well at all with the Chinese embassy in Harare who said the actual amount was almost 40 times higher. “According to our record, from January to September 2019, the actual bilateral support provided to Zimbabwe by China is $136.8 million,” retorted the embassy in a statement on Tuesday.

6. Voices From China: Journalistic neutrality under authoritarianism?

The latest issue of the Chinese Storytellers newsletter is out. There are links to a great range of articles by Chinese reporters, as well as a brief essay from Wilfred Chan, who edited the issue. Excerpt:

In the places I have worked — Hong Kong, China and the United States — the freedom of the press is nominally guaranteed by the constitution. Yet all these governments express open hostility toward journalists. If our existence has been politicized, I feel our work must be, too. We may not be building barricades in the streets, but we are waging a similar battle against unchecked power. 

So my question for this issue’s Rock the Boat is: in our time, as we fight for our lives under global authoritarian advances, is neutrality still possible? If our work is becoming increasingly political, does practicing journalism inherently require political commitments? And should we make those commitments clear in our work?  

7. Worsening censorship of visual arts 

The New York Times reports (porous paywall): 

China’s censorship review process is notoriously opaque and there was no official reason given for withholding the permits. In a letter to lenders of the works announcing the cancellation, Philip Tinari, director of the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, said that after months of back and forth with the local cultural authorities, the gallery was suddenly informed this month that the approvals would not be coming.

“Topics that were once relatively open for discussion are now increasingly scrutinized,” Mr. Tinari wrote in the letter, which was seen by The New York Times. “An exhibition that might have been greenlighted a few years ago — such as this one — must now be canceled.”

—Jeremy Goldkorn


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

African countries are not traditionally known for having strong space programs but now as the cost of launching satellites into orbit falls, that’s starting to change and Africa is becoming one of the fastest-growing space markets in the world.

The pace of Chinese investment in Africa’s tech sector appears to be heating up anew with a $120 million second funding round, also known as a Series B, for the Nigeria-based fintech company OPay.

Alibaba put a price on its highly anticipated Hong Kong stock market debut on Wednesday, the world’s biggest share sale of the year so far.

China’s largest e-commerce company said it was issuing the new shares at 176 Hong Kong dollars ($22.50) each. That’s equivalent to a discount of about 3% to Alibaba (BABA)’s closing price in New York, where its stock has traded since 2014.

The price falls short of the 188 Hong Kong dollars Alibaba had set as a ceiling last week, but the transaction will still raise about $12.9 billion for the company. 

Much like Giphy and Google-owned Tenor, Dongtu runs an in-house creative team that pumps out a bountiful supply of GIFs; it also distributes works of third-party creators such as entertainment studios and contracted designers, as well as popular memes sourced from the web.

China’s securities regulator has allowed Chinese mainland companies listed in Hong Kong to convert their unlisted holdings into shares that can be freely bought and sold on the city’s stock exchange. The change — which only applies to companies incorporated on the mainland and listed in Hong Kong, but not on the mainland — allows for the bulk of such shares to be traded in the city for the first time.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

—Allegations made against Mundipharma, an affiliate of Purdue Pharma, which is facing thousands of lawsuits in the US over claims made about its painkiller.

—Mundipharma tells doctors that time-release painkillers like OxyContin are less addictive than other opioids, according to interviews with current and former employees and company’s own training and marketing materials.

China is set to add new coal-fired power plants equivalent to the EU’s entire capacity, as the world’s biggest energy consumer ignores global pressure to rein in carbon emissions in its bid to boost a slowing economy.

Across the country, 148GW of coal-fired plants are either being built or are about to begin construction. 

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

A contingent of 240 Chinese peacekeepers left Zhangjiakou for a one-year mission in South Sudan. The contingent constitutes the first batch of a 700-member peacekeeping infantry battalion dispatched by China.

The SA Navy’s commitment to the first ever exercise in South African waters with Chinese and Russian maritime elements is a Valour Class frigate and the hydrographic survey vessel SAS Protea (A324).

Exercise Mosi starts next Monday (25 November) and ends on Friday, 30 November under the theme “promotion of state navigation and maritime security,” SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Directorate: Corporate Communications (DCC) said in response to a defenceWeb enquiry.

The United States is giving Vietnam’s coas tguard a second cutter vessel, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday, vowing to maintain a routine military presence in the disputed South China Sea.The new security ship “represents another concrete symbol of our strengthening relationship”, Esper said at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam after a tour through South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines.

The United States reiterated its commitment Tuesday to a nearly 70-year-old military pact with the Philippines, as the defense chiefs of both countries met in Manila and pledged to boost the treaty amid Beijing’s expansionism in the South China Sea. 

The official “Pair Up and Become Family” campaign in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region highlights a deep power imbalance based on the personal information shared between  Uyghur families and the Han Chinese “relatives” assigned to monitor their homes, according to sources.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:


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