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China imposes ‘reciprocal’ restrictions on U.S. diplomats


Dear Access member,

We interviewed renowned HIV/AIDS medical researcher David Ho (何大一 Hé Dàyī) at our NEXT China 2019 Conference in November after his keynote address on the targeting of Chinese scientists in the U.S. by intelligence agencies. Here is a four-minute video of highlights from our interview.  

Our word of the day is reciprocal response (对等回应 duìděng huíyìng). 

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Foreign Ministry spokesperson Huà Chūnyíng 华春莹 urges “the U.S. side to correct its mistakes.” 

1. China imposes ‘reciprocal’ restrictions on U.S. diplomats

From Agence France-Presse via Straits Times

China said on Friday December 6 it had taken “reciprocal” measures against US diplomats in the country, who will have to notify the Foreign Ministry before meeting local officials.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Huà Chūnyíng 华春莹 said China had notified the U.S. embassy of the new measures on Wednesday (Dec 4), which she said were a “countermeasure” to Washington’s decision in October to restrict Chinese diplomats.

“We once again urge the U.S. side to correct its mistakes and revoke the relevant rules,” she told reporters at a press briefing. 

The headline above, with “reciprocal” in quote marks, is copied from the AFP report. The quote marks are justified because foreign diplomats already face many practical restrictions on travel within China that Chinese diplomats do not face in most other countries. 

Here is the Party line on the announcement from China Daily: Beijing issues reciprocal rules for Washington’s diplomats. Xinhua has the Chinese version.

2. Trump makes market-boosting trade war comments 

Reuters reports:

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States is having meetings and discussions with China right now that are going well.

The world’s two largest economies are working to reach a deal on the first phase of their trade disputes and end a 17-month trade war that has depressed global growth.

Coming from Trump, “going well” is entirely free of significance. 

Other news from various fronts of the U.S.-China techno-trade cold-not-cold war, day 519. 

“American firms bought fewer Chinese-made consumer goods in October in the wake of new U.S. import tariffs, and the overall trade deficit narrowed,” reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall): 

The foreign-trade gap in October goods and services contracted 7.6 percent from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted $47.20 billion, the Commerce Department said Thursday… Imports of goods from China were $1.7 billion lower in October than September, a 4.8% drop.

“The Trump administration has formally objected to the World Bank’s plans to continue lending to China,” reports the New York Times (porous paywall):

On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee that the United States had objected to the World Bank’s new five-year framework for lending to China and working on projects there.

Mr. Mnuchin said that he would like to see lending to China curbed as income levels there rise and that he was certain the bank’s leader, David Malpass, a former Treasury Department official, was making it a priority to ensure that China received fewer loans.

World Bank lending to China has declined from about $2.4 billion in 2017 to approximately $1.3 billion this year. But Mr. Mnuchin said he wanted to see that level drop even further.

3. China deploys ‘Great Cannon’ to hack Hong Kong

Infosecurity Magazine reports:

A Chinese government-backed DDoS operation has been resurrected to disrupt pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong, according to AT&T Cybersecurity.

The firm revealed in a new blog post yesterday that it spotted activity from the so-called “Great Cannon” starting on August 31, with the most recent DDoS attempts coming on November 25. Specifically, it was observed trying to take offline the LIHKG website, which is used by Hong Kongers to share info and plan protests across the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China wracked by unrest over the past few months.

The Great Cannon works by intercepting traffic from websites hosted in China and inserting malicious JavaScript in legitimate analytics scripts, thereby forcing users’ machines to covertly make requests against targeted sites.

Other news from the City of Protest: 

“Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Hong Kong on Friday night for a rally against the use of tear gas, as protesters’ representatives released a survey that said some of those exposed to the smoke suffered from rashes, diarrhoea and coughed up blood,” reports the South China Morning Post

“Hong Kong’s new police commissioner Chris Tang [鄧炳強 Dèng Bǐngqiáng] embarked on a courtesy visit to Beijing on Friday,” according to the Hong Kong Free Press

Tang will call on the Ministry of Public Security and the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council…

Speaking at the airport before flying to Beijing, Tang said the police have approved a march on Sunday organised by major protest organiser Civil Human Rights Front. The “Human Rights Day 2019” march will start at 3pm at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. Protesters will proceed to Chater Road in Central.

He said most public events since the 1997 Handover were peaceful and orderly, and the police rarely banned protests. “We respect the public’s right to express opinions,” he said.

Tang also “appealed to protesters joining a mass protest approved for Sunday to reject violence as he called on organizers to be proactive in condemning disorder if it breaks out,” per the South China Morning Post.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

4. Tibet’s most popular song

Last month, I came across an article by Tracy Ross in Outside Magazine about Tibet, and amid graphic descriptions of self-immolation — it’s not an easy read — I found myself intrigued by this observation: 

Tibetans are singing, dancing, and writing. Tibetan hip-hop has become popular, Tibetan poets are poster boys, and Tibetan singers are widely promoted objects of public adoration.

So who are Tibet’s hip-hop stars?

I turned to Bill McGrath, an old friend from Beijing who studies Tibet and Chinese religions, lived in Qinghai for a year, and is currently teaching at Manhattan College. I asked him to write about a Tibetan song. He immediately identified one, saying that “basically everybody in Tibet was listening to it in the summer of 2017.” 

The song is “Fly,” by ANU, a hip-hop duo whose name means “youthism.”

—Anthony Tao


Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law, which sparked loud words of protest, but largely symbolic actions of retaliation from Beijing. The Chinese Foreign Ministry lambasted the law as a “stark hegemonic practice, and…a severe interference in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs,” while U.S. Navy vessels were banned from visiting Hong Kong and five American NGOs were sanctioned. 

  • Beijing appears to be dialing up its domestic propaganda efforts on Hong Kong following the bill’s passage. In what appears to be the first time in six months, there were more stories about the Hong Kong protests and related events on Xinhua News Agency’s Chinese home page than on its English version on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. 

  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 just days after Trump signed off on the Hong Kong bill. The bill aims to “address gross violations of universally recognized human rights” Uyghurs are currently facing in Xinjiang and calls for “targeted sanctions” against members of the Chinese government responsible for the abuses. China has reacted with a series of angry screeds, but does not appear to have a lot of options when it comes to taking further action

  • Huawei faced significant backlash on the mainland after reports emerged of the dismissal and wrongful detention of one of its long-term employees. A report from the New York Times (porous paywall) suggested that “people in China are starting to sour on the company.” 

  • Scientists spoke out against the DNA sampling of Uyghurs and Tibetans. The New York Times reported that “China’s efforts to study the DNA of the country’s ethnic minorities have incited a growing backlash from the global scientific community, as a number of scientists warn that Beijing could use its growing knowledge to spy on and oppress its people.” The news comes after an earlier New York Times report that scientists are attempting to find a way to reconstruct a person’s facial image from a DNA sample. 

  • Trump said that a trade deal may have to wait until after the November 2020 U.S. election. Reuters reported that Trump’s comments “sent stock prices tumbling and triggered a rush into safe assets such as U.S. Treasury debt.” Fox Business reported this would also likely mean that U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods will take effect on December 15. 

  • Michelin’s first guide to the Beijing food scene was panned in an essay by celebrity chef and Da Dong restaurant group founder, Dǒng Zhènxiáng 董振祥, for oozing “cultural superiority” and implying that the “culinary level of ordinary people in China remains on tripes, offal, and viscera.”

  • A natural gas pipeline between China and Siberia was launched. Reuters reports that the Power of Siberia pipeline will not only transport natural gas from Siberia to northeastern China, but also help bolster political and economic ties between Russia and China.

  • Chinese diplomats continued to pursue aggressive Twitter diplomacy, with some reaping the payoffs. Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚, a diplomat who cut his Twitter teeth as the second-ranking official at China’s Pakistan mission, was rewarded for his Twitter diatribes with a promotion. See also today’s report in the Washington Post: China’s Foreign Ministry adopts a Trumpian tone on its new Twitter account — with insults, typos, ALL-CAPS, and emoji.

  • Chinese companies continued to promote their facial recognition technology in Africa. The Financial Times notes, “Over the past few years, Chinese surveillance infrastructure has swept across regions from Angola to Zimbabwe.” The paper went on to note, “Data from African markets is of particular interest to Chinese companies, who are looking to improve the accuracy of their facial recognition algorithms, particularly to identify people of color.” 


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

Chinese startup AutoX, backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba, has applied to test self-driving vehicles without an in-car backup driver in California, the first challenger to Alphabet Inc’s autonomous driving venture Waymo to say it has done so.

One year since Google-backed Waymo started picking up passengers for its autonomous ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Chinese startup WeRide has bet big on driverless mobility with its own driverless taxi pilot in Guangzhou.

It looks like HNA-backed Hong Kong Airlines Ltd. (HKA) has secured a lifeline just in the nick of time.

Some 4 billion yuan ($569.19 million) in syndicated loans announced this week will be prioritized for resolving the financial difficulties of the 13-year-old airline, whose money problems have been so severe that it is at risk of losing its aviation license, HNA creditors familiar with the matter told Caixin. 

Research from Comparitech shows China performing the worst in nearly every way at protecting biometric data. The report examines how 50 countries collect, use and store biometric data. China scored 24 out of 25, with higher scores indicating “extensive and invasive use of biometrics and/or surveillance.”

Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 has a plan to help meet the country’s growing energy needs and clear its dirty air: Spin off the tens of thousands of miles of pipelines held by three state-owned oil and gas giants and merge them into one new company. 

The resulting firm — informally known now as National Oil & Gas Pipeline Co. [国家石油天然气管道公司 guójiā shíyóu tiānránqì guǎndào gōngsī] — would aim to attract private investors to help expand the $70 billion network and diversify energy supply. Such an overhaul would radically reshape China’s energy sector, although it still leaves control in a single pair of hands. 

From January through October, the country’s software industry grew its revenue by 15.2 percent year-on-year to 5.79 trillion yuan ($822 billion), while profit was up 11.9 percent to 734.2 billion yuan, according to statistics published [in Chinese] on the WeChat public account of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

China will tighten regulations on the use of plastic film by farmers to boost crop yields, which has become a major source of soil contamination throughout northern and western regions, according to a draft policy document published on Friday.

Despite its size and importance, the fishing industry remains shrouded in mystery, lacking crucial information about where and how much fish is being caught, vessel ownership, labour practices and how seafood moves along the supply chain.

According to a recent Stimson Center report, China has the largest and most productive distant-water fleet, accounting for almost 40 percent of the global total. Given its central role in the fishing industry, China has a historic opportunity to take the lead in increasing transparency across the seafood supply chain.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Terrorism and extremism are mankind’s common adversaries. Yet Washington, by smearing China’s anti-terror commitments and achievements in Xinjiang, is sending a dangerously wrong message.

China has emerged as a global economic superpower in recent decades. It is not only the world’s second largest economy and the largest exporter by value, but it has also been investing in overseas infrastructure and development at a rapid clip as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that, particularly in emerging markets, publics largely have a positive view of China’s economic stature. People generally see China’s growing economy as a good thing for their country and believe China is having a predominantly positive influence on their country’s economic affairs.

The number of Chinese maritime incursions near Japanese-held islands in the East China Sea soared to a record this year, illustrating simmering tensions between Asia’s two biggest economies.

Chinese government ships, including coast guard vessels, have entered what Japan considers its exclusive waters more than 1,000 times this year, according to data from the Japan Coast Guard. That’s on track for an 80 percent increase over last year, and far more than any year since 2012, when China began making regular incursions around the islands.

While not linked to a specific incident, [Guì Cóngyǒu 桂从友, the Chinese ambassador to Sweden’s] latest threat on economic sanctions came after he openly warned Stockholm of “bad consequences” for honouring Guì Mǐnhǎi 桂敏海 with a free speech literary prize and said Culture Minister Amanda Lind would not be welcome in China if she attended the awards ceremony… 

A day after Gui made his declaration, the Chinese ambassador to Canada, Cóng Péiwǔ 丛培武, warned Ottawa of “very firm countermeasures” if the Canadian parliament pressed ahead with a call for sanctions over alleged Chinese human rights abuses against Muslim Uygurs in Xinjiang and pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The Maldives is seeking a “diplomatic” solution to restructure its Chinese debt as the small but strategically located atoll nation struggles with repayments, the foreign ministry has said.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

Education authorities in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen are recalling a health manual after an internet user exposed that it was rife with sexist content and outdated interpretations of gender norms, according to a report [in Chinese] Thursday by the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper. 

In a chapter on social skills for teenagers, the teaching aid — which describes itself as a “psychological and physical health manual for adolescents” — lists a number of qualities that supposedly attract the opposite sex.

Girls like boys who are “rich” and full of “masculine charm,” according to a photo included in the report. Boys, meanwhile, prefer girls who are “pretty” and “tender,” and are put off by “tough women,” “strong feminists,” and “money worshippers.”


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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.