A rout for Beijing supporters in Hong Kong, as Xinjiang leaks confirm the worst about Big Brother

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Dear Access member,

This morning cannot have been very pleasant in Zhongnanhai with a decisive defeat for pro-Beijing candidates in Hong Kong, and a huge new leak about Xinjiang that confirms the worst of much previous reporting on the internment and surveillance system there. Read on for details.  

From superpower couples therapy to Yangyang at the mic: Here is our summary of what happened at our NEXT China 2019 Conference last week

Our word of the day is silent majority (沉默的大多数 chénmò de dà duōshù). 

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

1. Hong Kong landslide for pro-democracy candidates 

Hongkongers showed up to the polls in unprecedented numbers on November 24 to deliver a strong rebuke to the government establishment led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é), ushering in more pro-democracy candidates into district council seats than ever before. The New York Times reports that nearly seven in 10 eligible voters participated, with this result:

With three million voters casting ballots, pro-democracy candidates captured 389 of 452 elected seats, up from only 124 and far more than they have ever won. The government’s allies held just 58 seats, a remarkable collapse from 300.

Although the district council elections are for minor posts, they are also by far the broadest poll that Hongkongers are allowed to participate in, making them widely perceived as a referendum on the city’s protest movement:

The district councils are among the most democratic bodies in Hong Kong. Almost all the seats are directly elected, unlike the legislature, where the proportion is just over half. The territory’s chief executive is also not chosen directly by voters, but is instead selected by a committee stacked in favor of Beijing.

The results shatter Carrie Lam’s claim that a “silent majority” of Hong Kong just wants stability and the status quo, and show that, in fact, most of Hong Kong’s voting populace is much more upset with the government than with the protest movement. “The government will certainly listen humbly to citizens’ opinions and reflect on them seriously,” a contrite but tight-lipped Lam stated after the election, without elaborating on what action she might take. 

Beijing was also deeply embarrassed by the election results, with state media avoiding mentioning the actual election outcome, but rather simply noting that a poll was held. “According to the HKSAR Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC), 452 seats of 18 electoral districts have all been decided” is as specific as state media outlet Xinhua got

Will reforms be made, or will the leaders just quit?

An editorial by the South China Morning Post, the city’s largest — and generally pro-establishment — English-language paper, says that “the people have spoken.” The editorial continues, “The majority is still critical of the way the government has been handling the political crisis and wants its demands addressed, including the establishment of an independent inquiry [of police behavior] and reforms for greater democracy.”

Even that paper’s reliably Beijing-friendly columnist, Alex Lo, says, “Time to concede to save Hong Kong” — though what he is calling for is not any good faith response to the actual five demands of the Hong Kong protesters, but rather swift resignations from three top city officials: Carrie Lam, along with Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah (郑若骅 Zhèng Ruòhuá) and Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu (李家超 Lǐ Jiāchāo). 

What will Beijing do next? 

It won’t be nice. Antony Dapiran, Hong Kong–based corporate lawyer, Sinica Podcast guest, and author, had this to say:

Make no mistake: this election result will not be seen by Beijing as a sign that they need to change tack in their approach to Hong Kong. It will not be the catalyst for some grand compromise. It will be seen as a sign that the Hong Kong people are making the wrong choice, and action needs to be taken to correct them. This is an emergency — one that, one way or another, Beijing will need to address before the more important Legislative Council elections in September 2020.

Other news from Hong Kong:

—Lucas Niewenhuis

2. New leaks detail internment and surveillance system in Xinjiang 

On November 16, the New York Times published “more than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents [that] provide an unprecedented inside look at the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.” The leak documented how the abuses were ordered from the very top, beginning with internal speeches by Xí Jìnpíng 习近平. 

This weekend, an enormous new cache of documents was published this weekend by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and by the New York Times (links all below). 

What’s in the new leak?

The documents confirm much of the earlier reporting on what is happening in Xinjiang, and add an enormous amount of detail. Key takeaways: 

  • “No more denying, no more dodging. The Chinese Communist Party can no longer hide its relentless campaign of mass internment against the ethnic minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, or claim that the effort is an innocuous educational program,” says scholar Adrian Zenz in the New York Times (porous paywall). See also “Wash rains, cleanse hearts”: Evidence from Chinese government documents about the nature and extent of Xinjiang’s extrajudicial internment campaign by Zenz. 

  • Facial recognition and other artificial intelligence technologies are being widely used to racially profile Uyghurs, and to target those whose online behavior is considered suspect. 

  • The scale of the internment and surveillance system is enormous. Targeting of Uyghurs is spreading to all regions of China, aided by AI. 

  • The camps are operated like high-security prisons, with inmates tracked on a points-based behavior system that determines their amount of oversight, and strict orders to prevent detainees from escaping. 

Chinese government denies everything

The Chinese government’s response: to deny everything. Via the Guardian, in summary:

First, there are no so-called “detention camps” in Xinjiang. Vocational education and training centers have been established for the prevention of terrorism…

Second, the trainees take various courses at the vocational education and training centers, and their personal freedom of the trainees is fully guaranteed…

Third, there are no such documents or orders for the so-called “detention camps.” 

Links 

The China Cables from ICIJ

New York Times 

Follow-up and related reports:

—Jeremy Goldkorn 

3. Chinese spy in Australia or something else?

On Friday, we linked to reports from Australian media on a man named “William” Wáng Lìqiáng 王立强, who apparently defected and became “the first Chinese operative to ever blow his cover.” 

Not everyone believes him: According to Australian scholars Adam Ni and Yun Jiang, “Wang Liqiang’s story is unconvincing so far,” although they have approached their analysis “with great care given the possibility that Mr Wang and his family may be in danger.” 

Meanwhile, in Taiwan, China Innovation Investment, a little-known Hong Kong firm dragged into spying allegations it denies, says Taipei has waded into the matter by initiating an investigation into two of its senior staff, reports the South China Morning Post.

The Taiwanese authorities have asked Xiàng Xīn 向心, China Innovations’ chairman and chief executive, and his wife Kung Ching [龚青 Gōng Qīng], an alternate director, to cooperate with an investigation it is carrying out into “the matter of the news reports,” the company said.

It was referring to recent media reports that a man claiming to be a Chinese spy seeking asylum in Australia alleged he undertook undercover espionage work in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.

See also: China tried to plant its candidate in Federal Parliament, authorities believe in Australia’s The Age:

Australian authorities are investigating claims that a Chinese espionage ring tried to install an agent for Beijing in a seat in Federal Parliament.

Sources with knowledge of the alleged plot believe the suspected Chinese intelligence group offered a million dollars to pay for the political campaign of Liberal Party member and Melbourne luxury car dealer Bo “Nick” Zhao, 32, to run for an eastern suburbs seat. The plot appears to be part of an operation to place a Chinese agent in Parliament.

4. Hopeless trade war talks limp on, with no end in sight

Reuters reports

An ambitious “phase two” trade deal between the United States and China is looking less likely as the two countries struggle to strike a preliminary “phase one” agreement, according to U.S. and Beijing officials, lawmakers and trade experts. 

Officials in Beijing say they don’t anticipate sitting down to discuss a phase two deal before the U.S. election, in part because they want to wait to see if Trump wins a second term.

“It’s Trump who wants to sign these deals, not us. We can wait,” one Chinese official told Reuters.

Other news from various fronts of the U.S.-China techno-trade war, day 508:

“The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously to prohibit the country’s telecoms carriers from using a government fund to buy products and services from Huawei and ZTE on the grounds that the two Chinese companies pose a national security threat,” reports Caixin

China steps up IPR rhetoric: “The General Offices of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council have jointly issued a directive calling for intensified protection of intellectual property rights (IPR),” reports the Chinese government’s own website (or see People’s Daily in Chinese). See also Associated Press: China sets tougher guidelines to protect patents, copyrights

—Jeremy Goldkorn

5. First U.S. NGO accused of breaking Overseas NGO Law

On Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) announced at its regularly scheduled press conference that for the very first time, a U.S.-based NGO has been formally investigated for the alleged violation of a new law governing the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in China. 

According to the MFA spokesman, the Beijing Public Security Bureau has already concluded its inquiry, and the organization, Asia Catalyst, is to face unspecified but “open and lawful” penalties.

For more, click through to SupChina

—Siodhbhra Parkin


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

Philippine offshore gaming operators, or Pogos, have turned the country into a multibillion-peso gambling haven targeting Chinese citizens through casinos and online games. Chinese-backed firms that are largely based in Metro Manila and employ tens of thousands of Chinese workers, Pogos rocketed in number after President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.

The problem is, the government does not know how many Pogo companies there are, how many people they employ, nor whether they are paying any taxes. And while economists and finance officials feel the Pogos should be paying more, government leaders cannot seem to agree on how to deal with the gambling firms.

China Mengniu Dairy Co. agreed to buy Kirin Holdings Co.’s Australian beverage unit Lion Dairy & Drinks for about 45.6 billion yen ($419 million), the Chinese dairy giant’s latest foray into the continent.

Mengniu will pick up Lion’s milk, yogurt and juice products, while Kirin will keep Lion’s beer, wine and spirits business, the companies said in a statement Monday. The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2020, they said.  

China’s central bank told businesses involved with cryptocurrencies to correct any improper actions, and warned investors to be wary of virtual currencies.

Bitcoin, that famous uncorrelated safe haven, seems to be crashing again. 

Reasons given for the crash include “China euphoria” fading (Xi Jinping said something blockchainy in late October and apparently the jubilation that followed has now, suddenly, disappeared); “concerns about a crackdown”; “pressure from bears” and “traditional markets cooling.”

Being state-owned in China no longer means being supported by the state, if the case of a troubled commodities trader is anything to go by.

Tewoo Group Corp. proposed Friday that investors either suffer losses as much as 64% or accept delayed repayment with sharply reduced coupons on $1.25 billion of dollar bonds.

The debt restructuring plan is the first of its kind for a state-owned enterprise, and increases the prospect of a default, which would at the very least be one of the biggest by an SOE in the dollar bond market in two decades. The company’s woes also raises fresh alarm about the health of Tianjin, the northern port city in which it’s based.

Chinese artificial-intelligence giant Megvii Technology Ltd. is facing additional queries from the Hong Kong bourse ahead of its planned initial public offering, people familiar with the matter said…

A letter circulated online said Megvii breached the listing rules by failing to make adequate disclosures of sanction risks… The AI startup is among several Chinese companies that the Trump administration blacklisted over alleged involvement in human rights violations against Muslim minorities in China.

China’s crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia rose 76.3% in October, boosted by demand from new refiners, with the kingdom retaining its position as the top supplier to the world’s biggest oil importer.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

Over the past few years, short-form video apps like Douyin and rival Kuaishou have exploded in popularity in China, where they currently boast a combined user base of nearly 648 million. 

As emerging, next-generation social networks, these platforms have fostered virtual communities for millions of otherwise isolated young Chinese. Among them there are those who, like Xiaorou, have been diagnosed with cancer at an age when they could be climbing the corporate ladder or thinking about starting a family.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

McCuaig-Johnston said she’d already had concerns about the direction Beijing was taking on human rights, particularly regarding internment camps for Muslims in the Xinjiang province, as well as the country’s increasing aggression in the South China Sea.

But what galvanized those concerns was the detention without charges of two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who remain in Chinese custody months later. Another two Canadians were sentenced to death for drug convictions, which have not been carried out. Shortly after, Beijing levelled sanctions against Canadian pork and beef…

Then a local business acquaintance told her he had heard authorities had a list of 100 Canadians they could detain and interrogate at any time. McCuaig-Johnston had reached her limit.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

A Taiwanese family drama, A Sun, has won the top prizes at the Golden Horse film awards – dubbed the “Chinese Oscars” – in a year marked by the conspicuous absence of talent from the mainland amid plummeting ties between Taiwan and Beijing.
The ceremony in Taipei on Saturday night was boycotted by China after a Taiwanese director called for the island’s independence in an acceptance speech at last year’s event.

Some desperate Beijing motorists are resorting to sham marriages to get round strict licence plate rules that are designed to limit the number of cars allowed on the city’s congested roads.

A report by state broadcaster CCTV that aired on Sunday night claimed that some drivers were willing to pay the equivalent of tens of thousands of US dollars to marry someone with one of the prized plates, have it transferred into their name and then get divorced.


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‘Once Upon a Time in Shanghai’

Mark Parascandola is a Washington, D.C.–based photographer whose work examines the role of film and images in shaping collective perceptions of reality. His recent book, Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, sheds light on China’s rapidly expanding film industry and explores the tensions between truth and fiction, past and present. This is the third of 12 photos we’ll run from his book