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U.S. House passes Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, Beijing fumes


Dear Access member,

Facing History is a nonprofit organization that runs programs to help “secondary school teachers to promote students’ historical understanding, critical thinking, and social-emotional learning.” On December 11 at 6 p.m. EST, it will host a webinar titled WWII in Asia: Between History & Memory, featuring Dr. Zhèng Hóng 郑洪, author of Nanjing Never Cries.

Our word of the day is Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 (2019年维吾尔人权政策法案 èr líng yījiǔ nián wéiwú’ěr rénquán zhèngcè fǎ’àn). 

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Chén Quánguó 陈全国, Party secretary of Xinjiang, is named as a target of sanctions in the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019. Image: AFP.

1. U.S. House passes Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill by 407 to 1 called the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019. The bill, a stronger version of legislation that passed the Senate in September, still needs approval from the Senate and a signature from the president to become law. 

What’s in the bill?

The aim of the bill is “to address gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uyghurs.”

It accuses China of “systematically discriminating” against Uyghurs by “denying them a range of civil and political rights, including the freedoms of expression, religion, movement and a fair trial,” and details abuses that have been documented in Xinjiang, including pervasive surveillance, DNA sample collection, and extensive use of facial and voice recognition software and “predictive policing” databases. 

The bill calls for “targeted sanctions” on members of the Chinese government responsible for the atrocities in Xinjiang, and specifically names the region’s Communist Party secretary, Chén Quánguó 陈全国.

The bill includes stricter export controls on U.S. technology that could be used to “suppress individual privacy, freedom of movement and other basic human rights” in Xinjiang. 

The bill’s passage comes just four days after Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019

Now this, just in from Axios: 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has requested a meeting with the World Bank over a $50 million loan approved for China’s Xinjiang region, where upwards of one million ethnic minorities have been detained, in a letter obtained exclusively by Axios.

How did China react?

With anger, of course:  

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qín Gāng 秦刚 today “summoned William Klein, acting deputy chief of the Mission of the U.S. Embassy in China, to lodge stern representation and strong protest” against the passing of the bill, reports Xinhua. Qin promised vague retaliation: “China will respond further according to the development of the situation,” he said.

State media spat out a series of editorials condemning the bill. Here’s a taste from Xinhua: Meddlesome Washington’s malicious farce on Xinjiang, and in Chinese, Using Xinjiang to control China is a plot that will never succeed.

Fighting terrorism is Beijing’s main line of defense. One Xinhua article (in Chinese) based on Foreign Ministry statements says “9-11 was not long ago,” and that the United States should not “forget the pain” or “play with double standards on counter-terrorism.” 

Another article (in Chinese) describes a press conference held in Kabul by China’s ambassador to Afghanistan to condemn the bill and persuade local journalists that China “has established education centers in accordance with the law to educate people affected by extremist ideology or who have tendencies to commit minor crimes, help them to correct extremist ideology, impart professional skills for free, and enhance their reemployment and livelihood capabilities.”

What will China do next? 

Beijing does not appear to have a lot of options.

“Foreign ministry spokeswoman Huà Chūnyíng 华春莹 said the latest bill on Xinjiang would ‘inflict some costs’ and have an impact on China-US ties and ‘cooperation in key areas,’” reports the South China Morning Post:

“A lot of people have issues with the US’ hegemonic acts and stupid behaviour and have floated ideas for us… As to what action China will take, I think you can wait. The costs will come sooner or later,” she said, without elaborating.

“Postponing trade talks and targeting American companies” are two “tough” responses also being considered, according to unnamed Chinese government advisers cited by the SCMP. 

The editor of propaganda sheet Global Times Hú Xījìn 胡锡进, who often says the quiet part out loud, posted twotweets about the bill:

The bill is a paper tiger with no special leverage that could affect Xinjiang. Xinjiang officials, including the Party chief Chen Quanguo will look at ‘sanction’ with scorn because they have no connection with the U.S. But U.S. politicians with stakes in China should be careful. 

Based on what I know, since U.S. Congress plans to pass Xinjiang-related bill, China is considering to impose visa restrictions on U.S. officials and lawmakers who’ve had odious performance on Xinjiang issue; it might also ban all U.S. diplomatic passport holders from entering Xinjiang.

Context 

Here are three relevant pieces published today. It’s worth noting that mainstream Western media is getting more comfortable with the use of words such as genocide and concentration camp.  

Recently accused of working for “the U.S. intelligence agency”by state media, SupChina’s Xinjiang columnist, Darren Byler, has written an analysis of the leaked Xinjiang materials: A Xinjiang scholar’s close reading of the China Cables

The government is struggling to retain cadres in Xinjiang because it is so unpleasant working there, according to the South China Morning Post

The measures targeting Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have triggered “widespread discontent among Han Chinese officials and citizens,” a source close to the central government told the South China Morning Post. The source said Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平  was aware of the problem because he had been briefed by the country’s chief Xinjiang policy coordinator, Wāng Yáng 汪洋.

“China’s Uyghur genocide must be put on trial” is the title of a Foreign Policy piece (porous paywall) by Azeem Ibrahim, a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College. He argues that the Xinjiang leaks to the New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists leave “the international community with an unambiguous moral duty to intervene.” His suggestion is to begin with “an investigation led by the International Criminal Court.”

2. Are Chinese people souring on Huawei? 

As we noted yesterday, Huawei is facing a backlash in China after the story of the dismissal and wrongful detention of a former employee went viral. There are more details in later reports from CNN and the New York Times (porous paywall), which says that “people in China are starting to sour on the company.” 

In other news of the embattled telecom giant: 

“Deutsche Telekom has put all deals to buy 5G network equipment on hold, it said on Wednesday, as it awaits the resolution of a debate in Germany over whether to bar Chinese vendor Huawei on security grounds,” reports Reuters via CNA

“The Trump administration considered banning China’s Huawei from the U.S. financial system earlier this year as part of a host of policy options to thwart the blacklisted telecoms equipment giant, according to three people familiar with the matter,” reports Reuters. Although the plan was shelved, “One of the people familiar with the matter, who favors the move, said it could be revived in the coming months depending on how things go with Huawei.”

Huawei will relocate its research facilities from the United States to Canada, founder Rén Zhèngfēi 任正非 said in an interview with the Globe and Mail (paywall). 

3. Mid-sized American companies moving away from China

Bloomberg reports, via the South China Morning Post

The United States and China are moving closer to agreeing on the amount of tariffs that would be rolled back in a phase-one trade deal despite tensions over Hong Kong and Xinjiang, people familiar with the talks said… 

The people, who asked not to be identified, said that U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on Tuesday downplaying the urgency of a deal should not be understood to mean the talks were stalling, as he was speaking off the cuff.

Color me unconvinced. In response to Trump’s comments yesterday that he likes “the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal,” China’s foreign ministry declared that China, too, will not be hurried into a deal, and that the trade negotiations are “conducted in an equal and mutually respectful way,” and the deal is “mutually beneficial.” 

Also today:

“Many mid-sized U.S. companies are realizing that they need to diversify away from China and have already begun to take action,” reports CNN

Middle-market companies have started to shift their supply chains to other parts of Asia and are selling more to other countries to make up what they can’t sell to China.

That’s according to a survey released Wednesday by Portland, Oregon, based regional bank Umpqua.

See also: “Mid-sized American companies are already moving away from China” and you should too, from the China Law Blog.

4. Dialing up the domestic propaganda on Hong Kong

Hong Kong was quiet today, but like yesterday, the noises from the propaganda organs in Beijing are loud, with invectives condemning the protests and the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the U.S. These links are from the home pages of Xinhua News Agency and the People’s Daily (all in Chinese):

Like yesterday, there are more official denunciations of Hong Kong protesters and U.S. policy on the Chinese versions of state media websites — managing the domestic messaging is key. 

Other stories from the City of Protest:

“After democrats won the District Council election by a landslide last month, a Reuters report cited an unnamed Chinese official as saying that Sai Wan’s Liaison Office had misjudged the situation in the city and its chief, Wáng Zhìmín 王志民, may be replaced. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the report was false,” reports the Hong Kong Free Press

Hongkongers are worried about tear gas. The Guardian reports

The Hong Kong Mothers group said last week it had collected 1,188 complaints, including about skin allergies and coughing, with the youngest victim being just two months old. They have urged the government to reveal the chemical composition of the teargas used by police… 

The recent sightings of dead birds in several districts where teargas canisters have been fired, and news that a frontline reporter has been diagnosed with chloracne, a skin disease linked to dioxin exposure, have sparked a health scare over the harmful effects of the noxious gas on the health of Hong Kong’s population.

So far, the government has said there is no evidence to suggest that teargas poses major public health and environmental risks. However, it refuses to release the chemical composition of the teargas used by police, saying it would compromise their “operational capability.”


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

A Chinese stock closed below its listing price on debut for the first time in seven years, showing how weak investor sentiment has become.

Luoyang Jianlong Micro-Nano New Materials Co. fell 2.2v percent on Shanghai’s Star board Wednesday, the first mainland listing to flop on opening day since Haixin Foods Co. plunged 8 percent in October 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Capital investment by Chinese firms has ground to its slowest pace in three years, as a weakening economy, tight credit and prolonged trade war with the United States dent sales growth and cash reserves. 

Foreign direct investment into China jumped last year to $139 billion even as trade tensions escalated, bucking a trend that saw global flows sink 13 percent from 2017 levels.

Nintendo is teaming up with Tencent to launch its popular Switch console in China, but it may have a tough time winning over gamers more used to playing on their mobiles.

Sky rocketing pork prices are impacting the entire supply chain. Wholesale chicken prices are up 33 percent on a year ago, driven by widescale substitution of pricy pork with cheaper poultry, meaning China’s popular fried chicken chains are also feeling the heat…

The millions of smaller players in China’s 4 trillion yuan ($568 billion) catering sector have fewer options to cope with soaring costs and limited supplies.

China is stockpiling U.S. computer chips, a sign that tech companies there are preparing for worsening trade relations that could lead to being cut off from American technology.

China is ramping up recruitment of Taiwanese talent in semiconductors, attracting top executives and engineers alike to bolster an industry that the U.S. trade war has shown to be a Chinese Achilles’ heel…

More than 3,000 semiconductor engineers have departed Taiwan for positions at mainland companies, the island’s Business Weekly reports…That amounts to nearly one-tenth of Taiwan’s roughly 40,000 engineers involved in semiconductor research and development.

  • China’s $17 billion default wave is about to break a record / Bloomberg

    A short video interview with Bloomberg’s Rebecca Choong Wilkins. In brief:

    • Rising onshore defaults are not a huge surprise given that China is looking to take on a market-led approach to risk, which inevitably comes with certain growing pains. 

    • Offshore defaults: There have been relatively few this year: eight versus two last year. 

Alibaba has been given the nod to raise an additional HK$13.17 billion ($1.68 billion) by fully exercising an over-allotment option after its landmark listing in Hong Kong last month, the company said in a notice filed to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

[E]xperimentally bred hogs are fortified with a gene for regulating heat, buffering them against northern China’s hypothermia-inducing winters.

The gene that researcher Jianguo Zhao inserted into the pigs’ DNA is among dozens of examples of genetic engineering underway in China — and in rival laboratories across the world — to create super pigs. For years, the quest was for better-tasting, stronger, and faster-growing swine. Now, in the wake of a devastating global outbreak of African swine fever, the more crucial need is to safeguard food security, and keep hogs alive. 

The gene editing performed on Chinese twins to immunise them against HIV may have failed and created unintended mutations, scientists have said after the original research was made public for the first time.

Excerpts from the manuscript were released by the MIT Technology Review to show how Chinese biophysicist Hè Jiànkuí 贺建奎 ignored ethical and scientific norms in creating the twins Lula and Nana, whose birth in late 2018 sent shockwaves through the scientific world.

“Most of scientist He Jiankui’s data has been available for some time, an insider says, but there’s still no word on where he is a year after he revealed his experiment.”

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Page after page, the names stack up: 629 girls and women from across Pakistan who were sold as brides to Chinese men and taken to China.

The list, obtained by the Associated Press, was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable.

The list gives the most concrete figure yet for the number of women caught up in the trafficking schemes since 2018.

But since the time it was put together in June, investigators’ aggressive drive against the networks has largely ground to a halt.

Officials with knowledge of the investigations say that is because of pressure from government officials fearful of hurting Pakistan’s lucrative ties to Beijing.

When detectives entered the vault, they were stumped by what they found — or rather, what they did not find. There were no tasered guards with their hands bound: Round-the-clock watchmen had worked their shifts without incident. The vault itself showed no sign of forced entry: The 60-centimeter-thick, steel-plated walls were intact. Security cameras and trip alarms operated normally.

Bank officials struggled to explain why they had waited hours to call the police. A lot of money was unaccounted for.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

In early November, 17 artists descended on a quiet backstreet in central Putuo District to cover a plastic construction fence with street art.

For the organizers, the event was a chance to add a splash of color and hype to the 1,000 Trees complex — a futuristic, flora-covered building set to open in 2020. But for the artists, the gathering represented something else entirely: a final chance to paint on their beloved street, Moganshan Road.

For over a decade, the dusty lane running along the southern bank of the Suzhou Creek was the center of Shanghai’s street art scene, famed for its long, serpentine “graffiti wall.” But last year, the wall finally came down, and with it went the city’s only remaining haven for graffiti writers.

OPINION PIECES AND RANTS:

  • Former NSA head cautions against Cold War tactics
    The U.S. can’t use Cold War tactics to engage with China, says former NSA head Michael Rogers / CNBC
    An interview with Admiral Michael Rogers, former head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command. His main points are:

    • To deal with China effectively, U.S. businesspeople should understand the country’s goal is to achieve dominance in the technologies that will be important in the 21st century.

    • Rogers warned that when business or political leaders differentiate between national security and economic impacts they may be missing the point: “In the 21st Century, the two are very much intertwined.”

    • But he cautioned that it would not be productive for political or business forces to default to treating China as an enemy. But he also cautioned that competing with China tit-for-tat likely wouldn’t work for the U.S. Increased government intervention with technology companies simply wouldn’t fly in the U.S. 

    • Still, the U.S. could vastly improve its public-private partnerships. “You saw the power of that partnership in the space race, the best of government and the best of the private sector.”

  • Call to release Michael Kovrig
    Why China must send Michael Kovrig home / Washington Post (porous paywall)
    An essay by four former and current presidents and CEOs of International Crisis Group calling for the release of the organization’s North East Asia adviser, Michael Kovrig, the Canadian detained by Chinese authorities in what is widely considered to be a retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CFO Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟 in Canada. 

The piece comes in the run-up to the one-year anniversary of Kovrig’s arrest. It points out that Kovrig’s detention not only is inhumane but also runs counter to Beijing’s interests by playing into the hands of those advocating for a more aggressive approach to Beijing, rather than one of constructive engagement and cooperation.    

Trump is a strategic gift for Beijing. He is undermining the U.S.’ international position and domestic cohesion at a critical time when it desperately needs to refocus on key challenges, including China. Even as Trump confronts China on trade and security issues, he is exacerbating the conditions for American decline and China’s continued rise internationally by turning inward.

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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.