Asia Communique

China issues Tibet “white paper” — Minor face-off at Galwan — China and origins of COVID-19 — CCTV-7 military reports (new)

China issues Tibet “white paper”

China’s State Council has issued a new white paper on the occasion of what they call “70th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet”. The State Council has issued white papers on key anniversaries and some other occasions. These white papers have a similar tone on poverty alleviation, democratic reform and separatism.

Full text of the new white paper: link.

Here is the link to the archive of State Council’s white papers: link.

But this new white paper had some interesting language about the recent history of Tibet which would raise eyebrows among experts.

“In 1940, the Commission for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs opened an office in Lhasa as the permanent organ representing the central government in Tibet. Under the ROC, Tibet was clearly identified as Chinese territory in world maps and maps of China issued by the government and non-government publishers. The central government of the ROC safeguarded the nation's sovereignty over Tibet despite frequent civil wars among warlords and a weak state and following the tradition by conferring the official titles on the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama. No country or government in the world has ever acknowledged the “independence of Tibet”.

– “Tibetan independence” was a product of imperialist aggression against China in modern times,” said the white paper.

The Republic of China — or Taiwan — plays a complex role in the history of communist China. The National government of the ROC was seen as a “traitor” and is cast in a negative light. But in recent years, the Communist Party has sought to revive the role of ROC during World War II. The CPC wants to elevate its own history during the conflict with Japan and whitewash the collaboration with the ROC. The rewriting of ROC’s role has now been applied to Tibet. Historically the ROC has claimed Tibet to be part of its territory and even claimed Arunachal Pradesh to be part of Tibet.

In addition to the white paper, the state council also held a press conference. You can watch the recording of the press conference here.

China has reiterated its intention to intervene in the selection of the new Dalai Lama.

Minor face-off at Galwan

“There was a minor face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the no-patrolling zone at Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh in the first week of May, a senior government official told The Hindu. However, no clash occurred, and the two sides disengaged,” reported The Hindu.

The Indian Army has denied the report.

“It is clarified that NO such minor face-off has taken place between Indian and Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh in the first week of May 2021 as reported,” said ADGPI’s account on Twitter.

PLA’s camp at Galwan Valley has grown in size since August 2020. A comparison:

The new structure seen in the 2021 Google Earth imagery could be the construction done to house troops during the winter months.

The tone of denial issued by the Indian Army does give the impression some incident did happen. The incident may not exactly have been a face-off. In 2020, the army denied several stories about Galwan Valley, and some of the stories did turn out to be true. We should keep an eye on Eastern Ladakh. Read my update about PLA’s new military hardware below.

I happened to stumble upon China’s new construction at Jiagang Village (or Jaggang) (甲岗村) in Rutog county.

Chinese Army returns to exercise areas near eastern Ladakh; Indian troops keep close watch — India Today

China’s tech leaders off the helm

A series of new developments shook China’s tech world.

“ByteDance Ltd., the owner of popular short-video app TikTok, said its founder Zhang Yiming would step down as chief executive, the latest Chinese tech boss to resign as the government ramps up pressure on the sector.

Mr Zhang appointed co-founder Liang Rubo as his successor and said he was stepping aside to focus on long-term strategy,” reported WSJ.

“Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. has reshuffled its top executive leadership by appointing a veteran of its core smartphone business to head its smart car unit, as the company shifts its focus to cloud computing and automobiles”, reported Caixin Global.

Tensions in the South China Sea

The Peopls’s Liberations Army navy has conducted exercises in three theatre commands in the past month.

“PLA Navy fleets attached to three of the Chinese military’s theatre commands have staged separate live-fire drills in recent days, state media reported.

It the second such drills in just over a month, with observers seeing the exercises as part of efforts to counter US military challenges,” reported SCMP.

“The US warship’s passing through the Taiwan Strait and in succession trespassing into China's territorial waters off the Xisha Islands within several days is a serious provocation and very bad in nature, China firmly opposes and strongly condemns it, said Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, spokesperson for China's Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Thursday in a written statement,” said PLA spokesperson.

“The US missile destroyer Curtis Wilbur passed through the Taiwan Strait on May 18 and consecutively trespassed into China's territorial waters off the Xisha Islands on May 20 without China’s approval”, added the spokesperson.

“Beijing has rebuffed the Pentagon’s requests for talks between China’s top officer and the new US defence secretary, complicating bilateral relations at a time of heightened tensions between the world’s two most powerful militaries.

Lloyd Austin, US defence secretary, has made three requests to speak to General Xu Qiliang, vice-chair of the Central Military Commission and a politburo member China’s most senior military officer. But China has refused to engage, according to three people briefed on the impasse,” reported Financial Times.

Pentagon wants to talk to General Xu Qiliang instead of Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, who isn’t as powerful as General Xu in the Chinese political system. Pentagon Chief Llyod was supposed to meet Wei Fenghe in Singapore at the Shangri-La Dialogue, but the event was cancelled because of the surge in cases in Singapore.

“The full lifting of U.S. restrictions on South Korean missiles is expected to beef up Seoul's defence capabilities by allowing it to secure longer-range missiles that can fly beyond the Korean Peninsula, experts said Saturday.

The decision is also seen as part of the U.S. strategy to counter China, and South Korea's deployment of longer-range missiles could bring the country further into the great power game between Washington and Beijing, the experts said,” reported Yonhap News Agency.

China-Pakistan 70th relations anniversary

On May 21, China and Pakistan marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations.

President Xi Jinping exchanged congratulatory messages with Pakistani President Alvi on occasion 70 years of establishing diplomatic relations. The story about the exchange was published on the front page of the print edition of PLA Daily on May 22.

“Xi Jinping emphasized that I attach great importance to the development of China-Pakistan relations, and I am willing to work with you to deepen strategic communication and practical cooperation between the two countries, promote the high-quality operation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and work together to build a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future for the benefit of both countries. And the two peoples. May the friendship between China and Pakistan last forever,” PLA Daily reported.

“Facing the Arabian Sea, Gwadar port, one of the pillars of the CPEC, in Pakistan's southwest Balochistan province, has made a series of achievements including the inauguration of liner services, Afghan transit trade and liquefied petroleum gas business, and is sailing towards the dream of becoming a "New Dubai" in Pakistan” reported Xinhua.

“India’s legitimate requirements vis-à-vis China and its determination to play a major global role complicate the bilateral nuclear dynamic by creating strategic anxieties for Pakistan. That is, Indian actions designed to deter China (such as the development of the Agni-V missile – see Chapter Four) can be seen, from Islamabad’s perspective, as increasing the threat to Pakistan,” says a new report by Antoine Levesques, Desmond Bowen and John H. Gill published by International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Nuclear deterrence and stability in South Asia: perceptions and realities — read here

Taiwan debate

The debate on the potential invasion of Taiwan by China and the support the US should offer continues in Washington. Some experts have argued that a strong US support for Taiwan will escalate into a nuclear conflict between the US and China. A story in the NYT says that at the height of cross-strait tensions in 1958, there was a high risk of escalation underreported in public.

‘Even in 1958, officials doubted the United States could successfully defend Taiwan using only conventional weapons, the documents show. If China invaded today, Mr Westad said, “it would put tremendous pressure on U.S. policymakers, in the case of such a confrontation, to think about how they might deploy nuclear weapons”’

Risk of Nuclear War Over Taiwan in 1958 Said to Be Greater Than Publicly Known — NYT

“There is no strong evidence of a Chinese plan to take over Taiwan militarily in the near term. After all, Beijing understands it can achieve peaceful unification by eventually shifting the balance of military power in the region to China’s advantage, at which point the United States and its allies would no longer be able or willing to interfere and Taiwan would have to accept Beijing’s political arrangement. Until then, China appears determined to use its growing power to set rules of behaviour for Taiwan’s international sympathizers. The geopolitical fault line between Western democracies and China will deepen, increasing the risk of a more intense regional arms competition,” wrote Tong Zhao. I would also suggest listening to a podcast episode on Taiwan in the Intelligence Squared series (link below).

China and origins of COVID-19

There has been a growing call for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19. An article in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists by Nicholas Wade raised some serious questions about the origin of COVID-19 and asked for further investigation. The article fueled interest worldwide, and there have been growing calls to investigate the origin of COVID-19.

Several Indian media outlets have shared various conspiracy theories about the origin of COVID-19, everything from it was a “biological weapon” to the “lab leak theory”. The coverage of Indian media asking questions about the origins of COVID-19 was criticised on Weibo.

“Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory” reported WSJ in an exclusive. The story is surely going to fuel further interest in the investigation ahead of the World Health Assembly. But the claims made in the WSJ story aren’t exactly new.

‘According to the US government, researchers at the lab had been experimenting on RaTG13 - the bat coronavirus identified as the closest sample to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 - "under conditions that increased the risk for accidental and potentially unwitting exposure". Several researchers then fell ill with symptoms "consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses", it claims’ reported Sky News in January 2021. We should ask if the intelligence the US has now received offers further details to corroborate the claim that’s been circulating? I think the WSJ story is still very thin on details.

China continues to deny that COVID-19 was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“Political manipulation would not serve COVID-19 response, and it would only disrupt international cooperation against the virus and bring greater harm to people around the world, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Friday,” reported Xinhua.

CCTV-7 Military reports

I am going to share links to CCTV-7 reports every week. These are the reports that have relevance to Line of Actual Control and other geopolitical developments.

[Military Report] the reporter is in the battle position at an altitude of 5800 meters, and the scouts are training beyond the limit of day and night — CCTV-7 (18 May 2021)

[Military Report] direct attack training ground 5500 meters above sea level, synthetic battalion firepower attack integrated into information command — CCTV-7 (21 May 2021)

[Noon National Defense Military] A border defense regiment in the Tacheng Military Sub-district of Xinjiang Military Region watched the anti-aircraft machine guns full of fire! — CCTV-7 (18 May 2021).

"National Defense Military Morning Post" 20210517 — CCTV-7

[Military report] New armoured assault vehicles installed on plateau training troops indirect attack training ground — CCTV-7

In these reports, we can see some new military hardware added to the Xinjiang Military district.

1) Type 08 armoured vehicle, which is a 122mm-calibre self-propelled howitzer — May 16

2) Self-propelled mortars 

3) A new armour vehicle — May 17

PLA Xinjiang Military Command reveals 3 new weapon systems: reports — Global Times

As the snows melt in Eastern Ladakh, I expect PLA to continue with its summer training schedule despite the deadlock in negotiations with the Indian Army.

Tibet Military Region’s troops were seen marking forward border posts in a video published on Weibo.

Don’t Miss Out

“May 22 at 2:4, Qinghai Province, Guoluo Prefecture, Maduo County (latitude 34.59 north, longitude 98.34 degrees east) 7.4 earthquake, focal depth 17 km. As of 7:00, 37 earthquakes with magnitude 3 or above were recorded, 4 earthquakes above 4, with a maximum of 4.6. Some houses collapsed and the pavement was deformed in the earthquake area” reported PLA Daily.

“No casualties have been reported after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake jolted northwest China's Qinghai Province Saturday, said local authorities.

The quake struck Maduo County of Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the province at 2:04 a.m. Saturday Beijing Time, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC),” reported Xinhua.

“The three associations are the National Internet Finance Association of China – an association of Chinese internet firms providing financial services, the China Banking Association on behalf of the country's banks, and the Payment and Clearing Association of China.

According to the statement, financial institution members, payment institutions, and other agencies shall not use virtual currency to price products or services. Also, internet platform enterprises shall not provide services for virtual currency-related business activities,” CGTN reported.

“Nepal President Bidya Devi Bhandari has dissolved the House of Representatives and announced mid-term polls on November 12 and 19 after she determined that both embattled Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli and the Opposition alliance were not in a position to form a government”, reported The Hindu.

“In 2011, Chinese spies stole the crown jewels of cybersecurity—stripping protections from firms and government agencies worldwide”, reported Wired.

“Jack Ma will step down as president of the elite business academy he founded six years ago, according to people familiar with the matter, as Beijing cracks down on the billionaire’s influence across Chinese society. Hupan University, an executive training programme that is reputedly as hard to get into as Harvard University, will also restructure its educational programme and has changed its name, the people said” reported Financial Times.

Unmasking China’s Maritime Militia — RFA

“PetroChina International Singapore Pte Ltd sold a cargo of jet fuel into Myanmar in April, according to government import data reviewed by Reuters, the first such shipment since before the military seized power in a coup in February”, reported Reuters.

“China has offered to host talks between the parties in Afghanistan and pledged to help its anti-terrorism effort, in a move seen as Beijing positioning itself as a conflict mediator.

In a call with his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Haneef Atmar on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would continue to support Afghanistan and South Asian countries in fighting the pandemic and was willing to deepen anti-terrorism cooperation with Afghanistan” reported SCMP.

“The European parliament has voted overwhelmingly to “freeze” any consideration of a massive investment deal with China, following recent tit-for-tat sanctions over Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur population in Xinjiang province.

According to the resolution, the parliament, which must ratify the deal, “demands that China lift the sanctions before parliament can deal with the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI)”. Some MEPs warned that the lifting of the sanctions would not in itself ensure the deal’s ratification,” reported The Guardian.

Closer UK-India defence cooperation bears separate calculations — PLA Daily op-ed

Movers and Shakers

The Electric-Car Lesson That China Is Serving Up for America — Michael Schuman

What the West Gets Wrong About China — Rana Mitter and Elsbeth Johnson

Competition Can Be Good for the Developing World — Branko Milanovic

India Gives Up Its Anti-Colonial Obsessions and Embraces Europe — Foreign Policy

Biden puts more pressure on China than Trump (Chinese) — Yan Xuetong


Taiwan is Indefensible — Intelligence Squared

Business Street

Alibaba leads $400m bet on Vietnam’s fast-growing retail market — Financial Times

Reliance Jio joins global consortium to build undersea cable network — PTI

Off-Track Reads

Sex and the Chinese Economy — The Project Syndicate

Joining China’s Communist Party: how and why so many people do it, ‘secret’ members and expulsion — SCMP

Sweeping up the government’s social media mess — China Media Project

Upcoming Watch

China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi will visit Russia from May 24-27 for the 16th round of the China-Russia strategic security consultation. He will also visit Slovenia and Croatia.

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi will appear in a court — in-person — for the first time on May 24.

The 74th session of the World Health Assembly will start on May 24 and will continue until June 1.