Chinese spy defects to Australia

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Our word of the day is “He defected to Australia” (他叛逃到澳大利亚 tā pàntáo dào àodàlìyǎ). 

Yesterday was our NEXT China conference. Here is a summary of what went down: From Superpower Couples Therapy to Yangyang at the mic: What happened at the NEXT China 2019 conference

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief 


Screenshot from The Age (Australia) of “Wang ‘William’ Liqiang…the first Chinese operative to ever blow his cover.”

1. Chinese spy defects to Australia

In interviews with Australian media outlets The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and 60 Minutes, a man named Wang “William” Liqiang has defected, and become “the first Chinese operative to ever blow his cover.”

From The Age

Mr Wang has taken his material to Australia’s counter-espionage agency, ASIO, and is seeking political asylum — potentially opening another front in Australia’s challenging bilateral relationship with China.

A sworn statement Mr Wang provided ASIO in October states: “I have personally been involved and participated in a series of espionage activities”. He faces certain detention and possible execution if he returns to China.

Mr Wang is currently at an undisclosed location in Sydney on a tourist visa and seeking urgent protection from the Australian government — a plea he says he has passed on in multiple meetings with ASIO.

In interviews with The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes, he has revealed in granular detail how Beijing covertly controls listed companies to fund intelligence operations, including the surveillance and profiling of dissidents and the co-opting of media organizations.

He has given previously unheard details about the kidnapping of five booksellers from Hong Kong and their rendition to the Chinese mainland. His testimony shows how Beijing’s spies are infiltrating Hong Kong’s democracy movement, manipulating Taiwan’s elections and operating with impunity in Australia…

Among his key revelations, Mr Wang said he had met the head of a deep-cover spy ring operating with impunity in Australia.

Mr Wang said he was part of an intelligence operation hidden within a Hong Kong-listed company, China Innovation Investment Limited (CIIL), which infiltrated Hong Kong’s universities and media with pro-Chinese Communist Party operatives who could be activated to counter the democracy movement. He says he had personal involvement in an October 2015 operation to kidnap and abduct to the Chinese mainland a Hong Kong bookseller, Lee Bo, and played a role in a clandestine organisation that also directed bashings or cyber attacks on Hong Kong dissidents. 

Read the whole thing on The Age.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

2. Desperate Trump sidelines Hong Kong 

Yesterday, we noted that the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, sending the bill closer to President Trump’s desk. 

We have also noted all week that despite another 90-day reprieve for Huawei, and vaguely positive noises from Washington and Beijing, we should all be expecting new tariffs on December 15, as a deal is still unlikely as long as Tariff Man is in charge. In fact, with the prospects for a phase one trade deal appearing no more ambitious than marginally cleaning up the damage from Trump’s tariffs, and not fundamentally improving the status quo from before the trade war, it is apt to call the U.S.-China trade talks a clown show. 

Today, these stories converged, as Donald Trump rambled for nearly an hour in a phone interview with his favorite morning TV show, Fox & Friends. Here’s what he said about China and Hong Kong, per Politico:

  • “Well I’ll tell you, we have to stand with Hong Kong but I’m also standing with President Xi,” Trump said, waffling in response to a question about the Hong Kong bill. Trump elaborated on his admiration of and deference for Xi: “He is a friend of mine. He is an incredible guy, we have to stand. I would like to see them work it out. We have to see them work it out. I stand with Hong Kong, I stand with freedom, I stand with all the things we want to do.”

  • “[China] has got a million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong that aren’t going in only because I asked him…‘Please don’t do that. You will be making a big mistake. It’s going to have a tremendous negative impact on the trade deal,’ and he wants to make a trade deal.”

This isn’t the first time that Trump has signaled he values a trade deal over taking a stand on Hong Kong. Both CNN and the Financial Times have reported that Trump promised Xi in a phone call in June that he would be quiet on Hong Kong as long as trade talks continued. 

Trump also reiterated his evergreen line that he is “potentially very close” to a trade deal with China, CNBC notes, though he took issue with Xi Jinping’s expressed hope that the upcoming deal will be “on the basis of mutual respect and equality.” Instead, Trump said, “this can’t be like an even deal.”

Sources told Reuters a different story:

Completion of a “phase one” U.S.-China trade deal could slide into next year, trade experts and people close to the White House said, as Beijing presses for more extensive tariff rollbacks, and the Trump administration counters with heightened demands of its own.

An initial trade deal could take as long as five weeks to sign, U.S. President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said here month.

Just over five weeks later, a deal is still elusive, and negotiations may be getting more complicated, trade experts and people briefed on the talks told Reuters this week.

—Lucas Niewenhuis

3. China public holidays 2020

That’s Mags (or whatever it is called) has compiled a guide to China’s official public holidays for 2020. These are the first two:

New Year’s Day
Wednesday, January 1

Chinese New Year 
Friday, January 24, to Thursday, January 30
Adjusted working days: Sunday, January 19, and Saturday, February 1
Saturday, January 25, is New Year’s Day (初一 chū yī)

—Jeremy Goldkorn


Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • Over 400 pages of Party documents on Xinjiang were leaked to the New York Times, which reported that the materials showed Xi Jinping demanding “absolutely no mercy” in dealing with those infected with “extremist religious thought.” Regional Party leader Chen Quanguo then issued an order in February 2017 to “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” leading to the arbitrary mass detention atrocity still under way today. Other parts of the documents showed that some officials disobeyed the orders for mass detentions and were punished, and one document was essentially a script that officials were told to follow when interacting with children whose parents had been detained in camps. China did not deny the authenticity of the documents, which were the most significant leaked from inside the Communist Party system in decades. 

  • Beijing asserted its authority over Hong Kong’s legal system, with Zāng Tiěwěi 臧铁伟, the spokesperson of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, insisting that “no other institution has the right to make judgments or decisions” on whether a law is in accordance with the city’s Basic Law. If this becomes a formal position and is enforced, it could fundamentally alter the rule of law and judicial independence of Hong Kong. 

  • 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, claimed that he was tortured by secret police, interrogated, and coerced into making a confession that he had solicited prostitutes. 

  • Hong Kong Polytechnic University remained under siege, with police surrounding the campus and trying to arrest protesters and prevent them from escaping. The standoff continued throughout the week, as more protesters escaped the police lines or surrendered. Other than that one campus, however, November 20 was a rare day of calm in the city. 

  • Alex Zhu (朱骏 Zhū Jùn), the head of TikTok, denied credible reports of censorship on the short-video app, and also dubiously said that he would turn down requests even from Xi Jinping to censor or hand over data. 

  • China is still the largest source of international students at U.S. colleges, though the rate of growth of newly arrived students has slowed to practically zero. 

  • Three cases of bubonic plague caused panic in Beijing, partially due to the Party’s habitual lack of transparency, though antibiotics have largely removed the threat of a plague pandemic. 

  • Columbia University canceled an event, titled “Panopticism with Chinese Characteristics: the human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party and how they affect the world,” due to concerns about protests from a Chinese student group. 

  • Bei Bei the panda — born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., four years ago — left the U.S. for Chengdu, China, where he will stay. 

  • A tiny hole-in-the-wall about a 10-minute drive from Tiananmen Square in Beijing sold for over a million yuan (1.28 million yuan, or $182,400), mostly because it comes with an urban residency permit that is required to access practically every public service in the city. 

  • 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). 

  • China took issue with Zimbabwe’s accounting of how much bilateral aid Beijing had given the country. Zimbabwe’s official numbers showed only $3.6 billion of its foreign aid came from China, while Beijing claimed the number was 40 times higher. 

  • Censorship of the visual arts is worsening, if the experience of a canceled gallery show at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing is any indication. 


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

China revised the size of its 2018 economy 2.1% upward on Friday at the conclusion of the latest national economic census, citing changes in basic data.

The revision came after a senior official at the country’s National Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday that “GDP accounting is not influenced by factors other than accounting principles and changes in data sources.”

Like other countries, China routinely adjusts its economic figures from previous years. But this time suspicions had mounted prior to the presser that the government might massage GDP figures upward in order to more easily meet its goal of doubling the size of the economy by 2020, based on the 2010 figure.

CATL and BYD Co. saw sharp declines in sales of electrified-vehicle batteries in September as demand weakened in China, where the government is cutting subsidies in the EV sector.

Sales by market leader Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. fell 10%, while BYD’s slumped 71%, causing it to lose its No. 3 ranking to South Korea’s LG Chem Co., SNE Research said. CATL had 26.6% of the global market in the first nine months, followed by Panasonic Corp. at 24.6%.

  • Selling to Chinese consumers online
    Cross-border ecommerce guidebook 2019 / Consulate-General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Shanghai
    A useful resource from the Dutch government. 

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

Hog farms found using illegal vaccines would be punished under China’s intensified efforts to arrest its African swine fever crisis.

Homemade, experimental and imported vaccines against the pig-killing virus are prohibited and risk untold biosafety hazards for the world’s largest pork industry, Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Department of Livestock Production Director-General Yáng Zhènhǎi 楊振海 told reporters in Beijing yesterday.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

U.S. Navy warships twice sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea in the past few days, the U.S. military told Reuters on Thursday, at a time of heightened tension between the world’s two largest economies…

“We urge (the United States) to stop these provocative actions to avoid any unforeseeable accidents,” the spokesman for China’s Southern Theatre Command said in a statement. “China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and its surrounding area.”

Philippine senators have called for an investigation into the security implications of China’s part ownership of the national energy grid after officials said engineers in Beijing could plunge the entire country into darkness with the flick of a switch.

National Transmission Corporation (TransCo) president Melvin Matibag confirmed there was a “possibility” of such a scenario during deliberations in the Senate on Tuesday over the government budget for 2020.

Since the late 1990s, internet censorship in China seems to have moved in lock-step with the popularization of the internet. As the world’s first “great internet nation,” the Chinese people’s craze for online trade, finance, and invention and their pursuit of an open, free digital space have been inextricable from each other; at the same time, the Chinese internet is an increasingly restrictive place where big data, artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and speech recognition are harnessed to control society.

To confront this enormous “ship” of internet censorship, Xiao Qiang, adjunct professor at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Information and head of the Counter-Power Lab, built China Digital Times (CDT), launching the English website in 2004 and the Chinese site in 2011. 

In a statement that is likely to annoy some in Japan ahead of his visit planned for next spring, Chinese President Xi Jinping blamed the unpopularity of his country on Japanese bias and prejudice.

“The fact that Chinese people have a more favorable view of Japan shows that China is following the right path,” said Xi, speaking in Beijing in response to a question from former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. “We are not spreading antagonism against Japan, instead we are encouraging people to visit Japan.”

“As for the biased view of Japanese people toward China, yes, China needs to do some things but more importantly the responsibility is on the Japanese side. It needs to do more things to undo the prejudiced and biased views against China.”

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

“When I was the president of the Hejian Donkey Burger Association (earlier this year), the market value of the donkey burger business was about 8 billion yuan per year,” he says. That’s around $1.1 billion.

“But if the donkey meat market can improve, the industry’s market value could be at least 100 billion yuan in the future,” he adds.

All premises within Guangzhou’s Redtory art and design district have been ordered by local government officials to evacuate by November 21. Sections of the complex have been slated for demolition since June. The Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art (RMCA), one of the last operating venues within the hub, confirmed in a statement emailed on November 19 that all exhibitions and events have been canceled in light of the eviction.

Redtory, a contraction of “red factory,” launched in 2009 as a non-profit cultural initiative, revitalizing the abandoned campus of a red-brick canned-food factory built in 1956. The district has faced threats of closure since 2013, when rumors circulated of plans to raze the area to make way for a new financial hub…

RMCA stated on the Redtory closure: “This lack of vision is deeply disquieting. As the wreckers’ machinery moves in, the past dissolves before our eyes and we worry about the future.”


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