‘Propaganda is a heady drug, and Beijing got high on its own supply’

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Our word of the day is drawn from the third story below: 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention 
jíbìng yùfáng kòngzhì zhōngxīn

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

A manga by Japanese manga artist Tomomi Shimizu “depicting the plight of a Uyghur woman who was detained and tortured in China has clocked up millions of views and spawned versions in several languages” per the Guardian. The image above is a detail from the English version. See links in the Politics and Current Affairs section below. 

1. Why Hong Kong’s election results shocked Beijing

“Protesters returned to the streets of Hong Kong on Tuesday, continuing their regular lunchtime rallies and vowing to make their voices heard even after the pan-democrats’ landslide victory in the district council elections two days before,” says the South China Morning Post. Some protesters expressed support for the last remaining holdouts “still hiding inside Polytechnic University, where protesters and police clashed 10 days ago.”

Beijing remains almost completely silent about the complete rout of its favored candidates in Sunday’s local elections in Hong Kong. The only story that even mentions the Hong Kong elections on Xinhua News Agency’s home page is this one (in Chinese). It does not even mention the results of the election but talks of “rioters” and “black terror.” 

Why is Beijing silent? In short, because it did not expect its candidates to lose so badly. James Palmer, author and senior editor at Foreign Affairs, spent many years working at Chinese state media. He has a compelling explanation (porous paywall): 

By the end of the night, the democrats had tripled their seats, beating the pro-Beijing camp 389-61 with the highest turnout ever. Seat after seat flipped yellow, as establishment representatives fell to a wave of public anger; the more tear gas had been used by the increasingly brutal Hong Kong police, the bigger the movement toward the democrats.

In newsrooms in Beijing, however, the results began a panicked scramble to find a way to spin them in favor of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In stark contrast to most observers in Hong Kong, editors — and the officials behind them — appear to have sincerely believed that the establishment parties would win an overwhelming victory. Propaganda is a heady drug, and Beijing got high on its own supply…

It seems likely that CCP leaders actually believed the line being pushed ahead of the elections by the establishment; ordinary Hong Kongers — the “silent majority,” as flailing Chief Executive Carrie Lam [林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é] repeatedly called them — were fed up with protest, blamed the opposition for violence, and wanted a return to normality.

What caused such an enormous misjudgment? The biggest single problem is this: The people in charge of manipulating Hong Kong public opinion for the CCP are also the people charged with reporting on their own success. 

See also: Hong Kong elections: Chinese media attempt to downplay results from the BBC, and in the New York Times: Beijing was confident its Hong Kong allies would win. After the election it went silent (porous paywall).

Meanwhile, rumors about Beijing’s next move swirl. Reuters reports:

Ordinarily, communications between Beijing and Hong Kong are conducted through a Chinese government body: the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong…

In a sign of dissatisfaction with the Liaison Office’s handling of the crisis, Beijing is considering potential replacements for the body’s director, Wáng Zhìmín 王志民, two people familiar with the situation said. Wang is the most senior mainland political official stationed in Hong Kong.

China labeled the news a “false report.” 

Carrie Lam is also the subject of political gossip. EJ Insight reports:

As a pro-establishment source has said, it is not that Beijing is not planning to replace Lam, but such a move is definitely not going to happen before the ongoing unrest subsides or within a short period of time afterwards.

That’s because Beijing would not want to make it appear that it is “kowtowing” to the protesters if it removes Lam at this point, the source said.

Nevertheless, the source believes there is a chance that Lam may step down before 2022, or before the end of her current term as chief executive.

Lam plans to offer no concessions, according to RTHK. “The Chief Executive…said on Tuesday that she would ‘seriously reflect’ on the district council election results, but ruled out accepting any more demands of the protesters.”  

Back in Beijing, “China’s foreign ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad on Monday to protest against the passing in the U.S. Congress of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, saying it amounted to interference in an internal Chinese matter,” reports Reuters. Xinhua’s Chinese report on it is here

—Jeremy Goldkorn

2. U.S. Commerce Department proposes ‘ultimate decoupling tool’

Today on SupChina, Cliff Kupchan and Paul Triolo wrote an op-ed on how technology is at the core of U.S.-China tensions — but in their opinion, it doesn’t have to be. 

The U.S. Commerce Department disagrees, judging by a new “Rule for Securing the Nation’s Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain” that it proposed today. The rules wouldn’t be formalized until after a 30-day comment period, but if they go ahead as proposed, it would be a significant sequel to the executive order blacklisting Huawei back in May

  • The rules require “the personal approval of commerce secretary Wilbur Ross for sensitive transactions,” the Financial Times reports, and “could result in the creation of a significant new bureaucracy, with [Kevin Wolf, a partner at the law firm Akin Gump] likening it to the creation of the powerful Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (Cfius), which can block any US investment by a foreign company.”

  • The new regulations could be “the ultimate decoupling tool,” Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said, because of their requirements for case-by-case review of a huge range of technology sales involving any “foreign adversary.” 

Other news related to the U.S.-China techno-trade war:

“We’re in the final throes of a very important deal,” President Trump declared today, after a phone call Monday night EST between Chinese Vice Premier Liú Hè 刘鹤, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Bloomberg reports (porous paywall). The Wall Street Journal notes that China’s Commerce Ministry sent out a “short and formulaic” message following that call: that the two sides had “reached a consensus on properly resolving related issues.” Reminder: It has been 509 days since the first round of Trump tariffs went into effect. 

Who pays for Trump’s tariffs? It’s difficult to tell the exact split among American businesses and consumers, but it’s definitely not China, the Federal Reserve of New York found in a new study. Since June 2018, Chinese firms have only dropped their prices by 2 percent on average, while tariffs on imports from China have risen by an average of more than 9 points. 

Michael Bloomberg entered the U.S. presidential race two days ago, and the billionaire’s controversial China record — just two months ago, he offered the opinion that “Xi Jinping is not a dictator” — could significantly raise the profile of China in the 2020 election (depending on if his candidacy goes anywhere). See our 2020 U.S. presidential election China tracker to see how Bloomberg’s remarkably China-friendly views stack up against other candidates. 

—Lucas Niewenhuis

3. Backlash against anti-LGBT rhetoric from Beijing district center for disease control 

This Sunday, December 1, is World AIDS Day — designated in 1988 by the World Health Organization as an international day dedicated to fighting HIV, showing support for people living with the virus, and helping to reduce HIV-related stigma. To commemorate the event, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing’s Dongcheng District released a short video that displayed a shocking level of ignorance and prejudice about the gay community — a segment of the Chinese population that’s most disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.

  • The since-deleted clip (description in Chinese here) was originally published last week on the facility’s official WeChat account (in Chinese), part of a post titled “Protect yourself. Stay away from AIDS.” 

  • In the video, Wáng Liánjūn 王联君, head of the center, makes a series of problematic remarks while performing shulaibao (数来宝 shǔláibǎo), a traditional Chinese form of rhythmic storytelling to the accompaniment of bamboo clappers:

HIV is contagious, once infected, you’re bound to die
No vaccines and no medicines, death is right around the corner
You absolutely should not have homosexual love 

On Weibo, LGBTQ rights advocates were quick to criticize (in Chinese) Wang’s remarks. “This is deeply offensive and misleading. How could someone like Wang become the head of the center?” one angry Weibo user wrote. 

“It’s bafflingly tone-deaf for a public health institute to spread the fear of HIV/AIDS,” wrote the Beijing Queer Chorus on Weibo (in Chinese). “The disease can be prevented through scientific measures. It should not be seen as a sin or a topic of taboo. Please embrace people living with HIV with warm hugs.”

There’s a longer version of this story on SupChina.

—Jiayun Feng

4. Chinese warships in Cape Town

Barely noticed by international news organizations this week was an interesting military exercise off the coast of South Africa. From DefenseWeb (South Africa): 

After six months of planning, warships from Russia and China arrived in Cape Town this past weekend for the inaugural Exercise Mosi, a multinational maritime exercise hosted by South Africa.

The exercise is scheduled to take place off the southern Cape coast over the period 25 to 30 November. According to the South African Navy (SAN), the exercise is primarily focused on maritime economic security, interoperability and maintaining the good relations between the participating navies.

There’s a TV news segment about the exercise from eNCA South Africa here, and footage of the arrival of China’s guided missile frigate at the port of Cape Town here (both are links to YouTube). 

—Jeremy Goldkorn


On 31 October Chinese telecom companies launched 5G services in more than 50 Chinese cities, creating one of the world’s largest 5G networks.

Huawei has built an estimated 50 percent of the network.

The Chinese Ministry of Information claims that in just 20 days the country registered more than 800,000 subscribers. Analysts predict China will have as many as 110 million 5G users by 2020.

  • State-owned video app
    China launches state-owned short video app “Yang Video” / China Film Insider
    A “5G-backed” mobile app called Yāng Shìpín (央视频 — “Central Video”) was officially launched by the state-owned China Media Group, which was formed in 2018 through the merger of China Central Television, China National Radio, and China Radio International.
    The new app aims to attract “audiences between age 20 and 45 with short video content as well as video clips from China Central Television (CCTV) and satellite channels across the country.” 

  • CFA exam a breeze compared with the gaokao
    How China CFA applicants keep beating finance’s hardest exam / Bloomberg (porous paywall)

In interviews, CFA holders and applicants from China described surmounting the exams as a warm-down after spending their youth in the marathon run-up to the  gāokǎo 高考 [college entrance examination]. Many were unfazed by warnings about the hefty commitment, saying they were willing to spend much more than a mere 300 hours.


  • Ethics in science
    Five ways China must cultivate research integrity / Nature
    Táng Lì 唐莉, professor of public policy at Fudan University, argues that “a swift increase in scientific productivity has outstripped the country’s ability to promote rigor and curb academic misconduct; it is time to seize solutions.”


The UK has urged China to give United Nations observers “immediate and unfettered access” to detention camps in Xinjiang, where more than a million people from the Uyghur community and other muslim minorities are being held without trial. 

The call from the Foreign Office was in response to the China cables, a leak of classified documents from within the Communist party which appear to provide the first official confirmation that the camps were designed by Beijing as brainwashing internment centres.

—German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issues warning in wake of publication of documents that ‘highlight workings of mass detention camps’

—UN experts have said at least a million Uygurs and others have been held in Xinjiang internment camps, but China says they are ‘vocational training camps’

Two executives of a Chinese company based in Hong Kong who have allegedly tried to influence Taiwanese elections were yesterday barred from leaving the nation following their detention at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on Sunday.

China Innovation Investment Ltd (中國創新投資 zhōngguó chuàngxīn tóuzī) executive director Xiàng Xīn 向心 and his wife, acting director Kung Ching (龔青 Gōng Qīng), were detained at the airport ahead of a flight to Hong Kong on suspicions that they breached the National Security Act.

Self-proclaimed Chinese spy William Wáng Lìqiáng 王立強 on Saturday told Australian media that China Innovation Investment was a shell company “whose founding mission was to infiltrate Hong Kong, but was later tasked with influencing elections in Taiwan.”

An employee of Japanese corporation Itochu, who was detained in China in 2018 on suspicion of harming national security, has been sentenced to three years in prison, Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday…

The Japanese man, who is in his forties, was detained during a visit to Guangzhou in February 2018.

Last Friday, China released Nobu Iwatani, a professor at Hokkaido University’s graduate school of law who was arrested in China earlier this year on suspicion of spying, Japanese media reports said.

Extensive links between British universities and Chinese defense companies, including missile manufacturers, could threaten UK national security interests, the author of a report on China’s research activity overseas has said.

The UK has been singled out as having unprecedented levels of collaboration with Chinese military companies in the analysis by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) which identifies collaborations with scientists from China’s hypersonic missile programme and on research topics ranging from smart materials to robotics.



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