SupChina Access Newsletter
Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Today’s top stories:
  • Explaining China’s surge in warplane activity in the Taiwanese ‘air defense zone’
  • Crowds flee as drones fall from the sky in light show gone wrong
  • Aunt Wang on cats and contentment

My thoughts today:

Google News currently displays the following to users in the U.S. as the top two stories on Taiwan: Taiwan “very concerned that China is going to launch a war” to take over, foreign minister says from CBS, and Mounting tensions between U.S., China raise new fears of threat to Taiwan from Politico.

In this atmosphere, we want to ensure that we are very clear about what we are talking about when we talk about Taiwan, and Taiwanese airspace. So our first story today explains exactly where the Chinese war planes have been flying. They have not been flying over the actual island of Taiwan, as some of the breathier news stories may lead one to think.

This Thursday, October 7, at 9 a.m. EST, join our business editor Chang Che, me, and Kaiser Kuo for an online chat about Evergrande and how it fits into the crackdowns and regulatory actions that we’ve been calling the Red New Deal.

Other upcoming events:

Our word of the day is Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ (防空識別區 fángkōng shíbié qū)

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Illustration via REUTERS/Dado Ruvic.

1. Explaining China’s surge in warplane activity in the Taiwanese ‘air defense zone’

Since October 1, China has sent an unusually large number of military planes into the airspace near Taiwan. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), a “total of 149 Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s ADIZ” (air defense identification zone) between October 1 and 4, Focus Taiwan reports.

  • 56 ADIZ incursions were reported on October 4, the largest number in a single day since September 2020, when the MND began publicly releasing statistics.

What it looks like on a map

Taiwan’s ADIZ is not the same as its sovereign airspace — a much tighter area reaching 12 nautical miles from its coast — and crossing into it does not mean these aircraft crossed the “median line” of the Taiwan Strait, either. Instead, China’s aircraft all flew around the median line and into the southwestern part of Taiwan’s ADIZ, the “airspace where the island’s authorities assert the right to tell entering planes to identify themselves and their purpose,” the New York Times reports. Some aircraft then continued on to the southeastern part of Taiwan’s ADIZ, as you can see in this map:

Reaction to the Chinese air force activity

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) weighed in with an essay in Foreign Affairs today (although the essay had been commissioned before the latest fly-bys):

  • “Beijing is replacing its commitment to a peaceful resolution with an increasingly aggressive posture,” Tsai claimed. “Since 2020, People’s Liberation Army aircraft and vessels have markedly increased their activity in the Taiwan Strait, with almost daily intrusions into Taiwan’s southern air defense identification zone, as well as occasional crossings of the tacit median line between the island and the Chinese mainland.”
  • The U.S. State Department said on October 3 that it was “very concerned” about China’s “provocative military activity near Taiwan.”
  • China has given no official comment or explanation of the military activity, and a Foreign Ministry statement (in English, Chinese) focused instead on responding to what it called the “irresponsible remarks” of the State Department.

Why the surge now?

One possibility is that China is reacting to “the arrival of an armada east of the island comprising ships from the U.S., U.K., and four other countries” — France, the Netherlands, Canada, and New Zealand — for military exercises, per the Wall Street Journal.

Another possibility is that the surge is a reaction to Taiwanese efforts to gain more international recognition, including through a potential diplomatic mission renaming in Washington, D.C., visits to Taiwan by the former Australian PM Tony Abbott and a French delegation, and upcoming economic meetings with several European countries.

Click through to SupChina for more detail on Taiwan’s ADIZ and potential motivations for the Chinese air force to fly into it.

Lucas Niewenhuis


Drones drop out of the sky in Zhengzhou. Image from Weibo.

2. Crowds flee as drones fall from the sky in light show gone wrong

A drone light show went terribly wrong last week during a night event in celebration of China’s National Day on October 1, organized by a shopping complex in Zhengzhou, Hunan Province.

  • The show began smoothly with a swarm of quadcopters, lit up with blue lights, rising into the sky and forming the name of the shopping center.
  • But a few minutes later, dozens of them suddenly broke formation and plummeted to the ground.
  • In videos (in Chinese) shared on social media, viewers can be seen running away from the falling drones and looking for cover while screaming in terror.

Some clips from the event show the out-of-control drones smashing into cars on the streets. A witness told a local TV news crew (in Chinese) that about 5,000 people, many of them children, were at the scene. Miraculously, nobody was hurt, according to the Beijing News (in Chinese).

Why drone shows?

Hailed as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fireworks, drone light shows are having a big moment in China, as businesses and local governments use them for promotional campaigns and celebrations.

But flying over people is a tricky task, and the incident in Zhengzhou wasn’t the first instance of things getting out of hand at a drone light show.

  • In January, during the rehearsal of a performance organized by a shopping mall in Chongqing, a fleet of nearly 100 drones crashed into a building (in Chinese) due to a technical glitch.

Jiayun Feng


Photo by Anthony Tao

3. Aunt Wang on cats and contentment

Beijing Lights is a column written by Huang Chenkuang, published by the Beijing-based literary arts collective Spittoon, in which she tells the stories of the marginalized from their point of view. The latest installment is a story about a retired cat lady in Beijing, Aunt Wang, who reflects on her humble life and what it means, for her, to be happy.

Who made me love cats so much? No matter how exhausting it is, when I see them I don’t feel tired anymore.

Over the years, whenever a cat dies, I try to find a place to properly bury it. I try to hold a small ceremony, and ask Buddha to give it better fortune in the next life.

Perhaps it is a reward for feeding the cats: life has been good to me.

Aunt Wang passed away today at the age of 66.

Anthony Tao


Luxury stores in Paris, London, and NY: Get ready for Chinese big spenders?
China’s luxury shoppers slash spendings to shop abroad, report says / Sixth Tone
“Buoyed by the prospects of border opening, high-end Chinese consumers are becoming less inclined to splurge domestically.”

The end of China’s gilded age
The end of a ‘gilded age’: China is bringing business to heel / NYT (paywall)
“Emboldened by swelling nationalism and his success with COVID-19, Mr. Xi is remaking China’s business world in his own image.”
See also: The end of China’s runaway growth on SupChina.

Coal is back as China ramps up funding
At the UN General Assembly in late September, China’s leader, Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, pledged to end support for coal projects overseas. But at home, use of coal looks set to rise as China copes with cross-country energy shortages:

  • Beijing has ordered banks to “prioritize lending to qualified mines and power plants so they can increase thermal coal and electricity output,” per Bloomberg.
  • Perhaps more telling, regulators have decided (in Chinese) that accidents at one mine will no longer lead to inspections at nearby mines.

More on coal:

TSMC: The most important company in the world?
Inside the Taiwan firm that makes the world’s tech run / TIME
An interview with Mark Liu (劉德音 Liú Déyīn), ​the chairman of chipmaker TSMC.

More on algorithm and video regulations
China leaps ahead in effort to rein in algorithms / WSJ (paywall)
“Beijing is building a system intended to ensure that internet platforms’ automated processes are fair, transparent and in line with Communist Party ideology.”
China’s major video platforms suspend advance screening feature / Sixth Tone
China’s major video platforms, including Tencent Video, iQiyi, and Youku, said on Monday “they will discontinue the preferential streaming of television and web series that allows premium members to watch them in advance after such practice was criticized for violating consumer rights.”

More on the crypto purge
China’s biggest crypto platform knows there’s no going home / Bloomberg (paywall)
“Hours before China issued its sweeping ultimatum against cryptocurrency trading, the industry’s last remaining giant player [Huobi] had already decided to call it quits.”
Beijing vs Bitcoin: Why China is cracking down on crypto / FT (paywall)
“Supporters champion a digital currency beyond the control of a central authority — but an authoritarian government is putting that idea to the test.”

Is Evergrande contagious?
Another Chinese real estate developer misses a payment. / NYT (paywall)
Fantasia Holdings Group, a Chinese luxury real estate developer, “missed a key payment to foreign bondholders this week, heightening the persistent fears of a coming crisis in China’s real estate sector.”
China property sector woes intensify after mid-sized developer defaults / FT (paywall)
China’s developers priced for meltdown as contagion risk spreads / Bloomberg (paywall)
Chinese property developer Fantasia misses debt payments / Bloomberg (paywall)
Chinese luxury developer Fantasia fails to repay $206 million U.S. dollar bond / WSJ (paywall)
Fantasia, another debt-laden Chinese property developer, defaults on US$205 million bond, as Evergrande crisis rolls on / SCMP (paywall)
Chinese property developer Fantasia fails to repay bond / Nikkei Asia (paywall)
Chinese developer misses payment, adding to industry strain / AP

More on Evergrande and China’s property crisis
Empty buildings in China’s provincial cities testify to Evergrande debacle / WSJ (paywall)
Unfinished development projects “are monuments to the once-grand ambitions of China Evergrande Group, now among the world’s most indebted property companies, and a case study in how China’s dependence on real estate as an economic engine helped feed those ambitions.”
What is China Evergrande, and why is its crisis worrying markets? / WSJ (paywall)
“A look at the crisis and the risks of a collapse.”
Hopson Development plans to buy stake in Evergrande’s property management unit / Caixin (paywall)
“Hong Kong-listed real estate firm Hopson Development Holdings Ltd. plans to acquire an unspecified stake in troubled China Evergrande Group’s property management subsidiary in a deal that could value the company at more than HK$40 billion ($5.1 billion), a source familiar with the matter told Caixin.”
Evergrande/China property: Suspension of disbelief is first of many / FT (paywall)
“Suspensions have the legitimate purpose of forestalling insider trading. But Chinese companies also use them as circuit breakers, hoping to stabilise tumbling shares.”

Hong Kong sees China first, foreign business second
Hong Kong values China above international business, Lam says / Bloomberg (paywall)
“Hong Kong’s ties with mainland China are more important than international business and global travel connections, according to the Asian financial hub’s leader.”

Geely builds satellites
China’s Geely builds satellites to guide autonomous vehicles / Nikkei Asia (paywall)
“Zhejiang Geely Holding Group has started manufacturing satellites to create a high-precision navigation network that will guide self-driving cars. Mass production has begun in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, marking an entry by China’s largest privately owned automaker into a field long dominated by the military.”


Chinese scientists warn on COVID-19 in wild animals
Chinese scientists say wild animals should be screened for coronavirus to cut risk of deadly variants being transmitted back to humans / SCMP (paywall)
“​​Chinese health experts have called for intensive monitoring of the coronavirus in wild animals, warning that its spread between different species risks further dangerous variants.”

China eyes solar and hydro for Congo copper-cobalt project
China’s CMOC eyes solar and hydro for Congo copper-cobalt expansion / Reuters
“China Molybdenum Co (CMOC) is looking to tap more hydropower projects and potentially use solar energy as it expands its production of copper and cobalt in Democratic Republic of Congo, its vice chairman said.”


U.S.-China trade talks
The U.S.-China trade conflict remains frozen / WSJ (paywall)
“By keeping existing tariffs, with possible loopholes, Biden walks a fine line between his domestic economic agenda, China hawks and anxious allies.”
White House calls for ‘new course’ on China trade ties / Washington Post
Joe Biden’s China trade policy lacks ambition / FT (paywall)
The FT editorial board on how “U.S. retreat from shaping [the] global system could hand Beijing a victory.”
Biden’s trade strategy that isn’t / WSJ (paywall)
The WSJ editorial board says “Trade Rep Tai offers a China policy that is Trump Lite.”
New U.S. China trade plan leaves industry hungry for specifics / Reuters
U.S. trade rep vows to pressure China beyond ‘phase one’ deal / Nikkei Asia (paywall)

Top U.S.-China officials set to meet
China, U.S. eye further talks with Yang Jiechi set to meet Jake Sullivan / SCMP (paywall)
“China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi will hold talks with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan in Switzerland this week, according to sources familiar with details of the meeting.”

Beijing shelves Hong Kong’s anti-sanctions law
China to shelve anti-sanctions law in Hong Kong, HK01 says / Bloomberg (paywall)
“China will not impose an anti-sanctions law on Hong Kong for now, local news organization HK01 reported, a seemingly unusual backtrack from Beijing on a move that had alarmed businesses in the Asian financial hub.”
Hong Kong leader says Beijing has no timetable for anti-sanctions law / Reuters

EU leaders meet, with China on the agenda
Europe’s leaders struggle to reset China ties, with eyes on U.S. / Bloomberg (paywall)
“European leaders will try their best to avoid talking about China in public when they gather in Slovenia this week, but sharp disagreements over how to handle Beijing will plague the closed-door dinner Tuesday night.”
EU leaders to discuss defense, US and China relationships / AP
Global player? EU summit to seek answers on China, U.S. strategy / Reuters

China’s CPTPP bid evokes “cool response”
China’s CPTPP application expected to receive cool response / FT (paywall)
“All of this makes China’s membership bid look even more transparently like a tactical move to foil Taiwan’s bid — or an application by the US when and if it ever decides to come back to the pact.”

Senkaku support
Message for China as Japan’s new prime minister Fumio Kishida gets Biden’s pledge of US support in East China Sea / SCMP (paywall)
“On first full day in job, Fumio Kishida gets a commitment from President Joe Biden that the US will help Tokyo defend disputed territories like the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands.”
Japan PM Kishida and Biden commit to defending Senkaku Islands / Nikkei Asia (paywall)
Japan’s Kishida, Biden agree to cooperate on China, N Korea / AP

South Korea wedged between U.S. and China
Seoul watches on as U.S. corrals allies to counter China / FT (paywall)
“Intensifying competition between the U.S. and China is forcing South Korea, a crucial American ally that has long sought to maintain cordial ties with Beijing, to confront an awkward choice.”

Malaysia joins the Philippines in protest against China’s vessels
Malaysia protests China’s vessels in its territorial waters / Bloomberg (paywall)
“Malaysia summoned China’s ambassador on Monday to protest the presence and activities of Chinese vessels off the coasts of Sabah and Sarawak states, describing the incident as an encroachment.”
Malaysia summons Chinese envoy for second time since June, over vessels in South China Sea / SCMP (paywall)
Malaysia summons Chinese ambassador over South China Sea vessels / Nikkei Asia (paywall)

IMF board briefed on China probe amidst Georgieva controversy
IMF gets briefing on probe into China rankings at World Bank / AP
“The IMF said Monday its board of directors has been briefed by attorneys from the law firm whose investigation found that current IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and other officials pressured World Bank employees to alter data affecting the business rankings of China and other nations.”

Will Hong Kong finally tackle its housing crisis?
Hong Kong’s Lam to target housing crisis in policy address / Bloomberg (paywall)
“Chief Executive Carrie Lam is expected to answer Beijing’s call to ease Hong Kong’s housing crisis and deepen integration with mainland China in the final policy address of her current term.”

The Karachi coast — gold buckle on the Belt and Road?
Pakistan and China unveil ambitious plan to develop Karachi coast / Nikkei Asia (paywall)
“In an ambitious turn, Pakistan and China have agreed to develop the Karachi coast, possibly shifting away from Gwadar as the center stage of the Belt and Road project in Pakistan, following ongoing problems at the southwestern province of Balochistan.”

Disappeared troublemakers were “detained by police”
China’s missing #MeToo and labor activist pair held by police, family told / SCMP (paywall)
Sophia [黄雪琴 Huáng Xuěqín] and Wáng Jiānbīng 王坚兵, two activists who disappeared last month in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, “had been detained by police, a family member was told by authorities.”
See the earlier story by RFA here.

No human rights talk for the Beijing Olympics
Beijing Olympics open in 4 months; human rights talk absent / AP
“When the International Olympic Committee awarded Beijing the 2008 Summer Olympics, it promised the Games could improve human rights and civil liberties in China. There is no such lofty talk this time with Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics — the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games — opening in just four months on Feb. 4.”

A look at China’s new national pension system
China’s national pension insurance company has got a problem with its name and it needs to be fixed / Caixin (paywall)
Wang Xinmei says China’s new national pension system is “actually commercial” and “different from [the] international norm.”


A government culinary project to create a signature dish
These 4 villages in Guangdong Province put themselves on the culinary map with signature Cantonese dishes, and ‘oil tea’ / SCMP (paywall)
“This is why the Chinese government set up a project called One Village One Product, to encourage villages to specialize in one type of local produce and use it to create a signature dish. It is aimed at boosting tourism and generating income for underprivileged villagers.”

Murder games for China’s youth
‘Script-killing’ craze: The murder role-playing game young people in China are flocking to as escape from everyday life / SCMP (paywall)
The new fad “offers a first-hand experience of a different life.”

A state-sponsored movie hits a popular nerve
For China’s holidays, a big-budget blockbuster relives an American defeat / NYT (paywall)
“A government-sponsored movie recounting a brutal battle in the Korean War has touched a popular nerve in China at a time of heightened tensions with the United States.”
Yesterday on SupChina: Patriotic films dominate China’s National Day holiday as industry faces pileup of unreleased titles

The Manichaean faith in China
How a forgotten religion shaped China / Sixth Tone
A second piece in a series on the culture and history of Quanzhou, a new UNESCO site. Read the first one here.

Sabotaging the stereos of China’s dancing elderly
China’s dancing grannies: ‘Stun gun’ claims to solve square dancing dilemma by sabotaging the music / SCMP (paywall)
“Now, a new product available on China’s internet offers a solution; a ‘stun gun’ that claims it can sabotage the stereos used by the square dancers.”

Writing about China, writing about real people
The West sees China as a ‘threat’, not as a real place, with real people / Guardian
An essay by Yangyang Cheng. See Yangyang’s column on SupChina.