Asia Communique — Week 23

China's Two Sessions — cyber attacks — China in India-Pakistan ceasefire

China’s Two Sessions

Three major developments at the National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting:

1) China has set a growth target “above 6 per cent” for 2021

2) Prioritising “reform” of Hong Kong’s electoral system

3) China will increase its defence budget by 6.8 per cent

“China's annual defense budget will maintain single-digit growth for a sixth consecutive year by increasing 6.8 per cent in 2021, according to a draft budget report made public on Friday”, reported Xinhua.

“A draft decision on improving the electoral system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) was submitted on Friday to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, for deliberation”, reported Xinhua.

“In order to maintain continuity and stability of relevant systems of the HKSAR, the revisions to be made this time in improving the electoral system may be limited to Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law, without revising its main body, Wang said” reported Xinhua.

“Echoing Wang, Chang Wu-ueh (張五岳), an associate professor at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of China Studies, noted that although Beijing repeated its "one-China principle" and the "1992 consensus" in its work report for 2021, it did not heighten its hard-line approach toward Taiwan” reported Focus Taiwan.

On March 5, China reviewed the draft of the “Long-Term Objectives by 2035” at the NPC.

In this outline, the NPC highlighted four industry areas that China should focus on for the next five years. This includes artificial intelligence, 5G-6G, quantum information, and semiconductors.

“A 435-km railway link to the regional capital of Lhasa will run Fuxing trains powered by both internal-combustion and electricity, Lu Dongfu, board chairman of China State Railway Group Co., Ltd. and a deputy to the National People's Congress” reported Xinhua.

Maskless Xi, China’s Modest GDP Target, Hong Kong: NPC Update — Bloomberg

Full Text: Explanations on the Draft Decision of the National People's Congress on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region — Xinhua

Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi spoke about China’s foreign policy at the NPC.

India-China: Cyber attacks

“The study shows that as the standoff continued in the Himalayas, taking at least two dozen lives, Chinese malware was flowing into the control systems that manage electric supply across India, along with a high-voltage transmission substation and a coal-fired power plant,” said New York Times quoting a report by threat assessment firm, Recorded Futures.

‘The investigators who wrote the Recorded Future study, said that “the alleged link between the outage and the discovery of the unspecified malware” in the system “remains unsubstantiated.” But they noted that “additional evidence suggested the coordinated targeting of the Indian load dispatch centres,” which balance the electrical demands across regions of the country’ added NYT.

The jury is still out there if China could switch off Mumbai’s lights on October 13. The original report by Recorded Futures here.

Chinese hackers target Indian vaccine makers SII, Bharat Biotech, says security firm — Reuters

What Are China’s Cyber Capabilities and Intentions? — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

A prominent Weibo user who comments on military affairs by the name “Bugle Horn” 衝鋒号角 has shared 10 points on what China has achieved from the stand-off with India. “Bugle Horn” has shared the latest pictures of the India-China border stand-off on Weibo in the past.

I have summarized the 10 points in a Twitter thread.

I personally found point number 1 very interesting: “Completed the military deployment of China's last weak and sensitive border, and removed the last worries for the liberation of Taiwan”.

China has made increasing reference to sovereignty in the context of border-related matters. Taiwan has always been the number one priority for the People’s Liberation Army. Linking Taiwan to Eastern Ladakh doesn’t make any sense at first thought. But if you look at the military thought of the PLA, there is a connection between threats emerging at the India-China border and Taiwan.

“However, the Eastern TC is not bureaucratically senior to the other theatres, who will argue why they should not be left behind. As with the services, this could mean demonstrating their relevance to a Taiwan scenario or explaining the urgency of other problems—for instance; the Western TC might emphasize threats on the Sino-Indian border. Mixed threat assessments that reach the CMC could lead to pressure to allocate more resources to the secondary theatres,” said Joel Wuthnow in a report for INSS.

The other points about securing the border with India, using resources in Tibet, and increasing influence in the region have been made before.

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui met India’s ambassador to China Vikram Misri on March 5.

“The two sides agreed that the important consensus of the leaders of the two countries should be adhered to and grasp the correct direction of China-India relations. The two sides agreed to implement the important results reached in the Moscow meeting and the previous call between the two foreign ministers, maintain the momentum of diplomatic and military consultations, realize peace and tranquillity in the border area, and put bilateral relations back on track” said Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"China meets with Indian ambassador: maintaining momentum for military consultations" was the 3rd trend on a Chinese search engine, Baidu.

“The boundary dispute isn’t the whole story of China-India relationship,” said Wang Yi at NPC.

India’s appears to be constructing a facility — with an airfield — on a remote Mauritian island of North Agalega.

“Satellite imagery shows major airfield and port developments are well underway, reportedly worth some US$87 million. Comparing the most recent images from Google Earth to the same location as seen in 2014 shows a new 3000-metre runway – capable of hosting the Indian Navy’s new Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft – and considerable apron overshadows the existing airfield in the middle of the island” reported Samuel Bashfield for the Lowy Institute.

“Increasing competition between China and the United States will directly lead to a smaller and smaller space for India to turn around. In 2020, there was frequent conflict between China and India, but the cooperation between the United States and India is constantly strengthening. India, which has been seeking a balance between China and the United States, is constantly moving closer to the United States. China and India are becoming increasingly competitive in Southeast Asia,” wrote Zhang Boyi (张博易) of the Peking University School of International Relations.

“US defence secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to visit New Delhi this month, in what could be the first visit by a member of US President Joe Biden's administration, two people familiar with the matter said on Saturday”, reported Live Mint.

Non-Allied Forever: India’s Grand Strategy According to Subrahmanyam Jaishankar — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

India-Pakistan ceasefire: Chinese state media reaction

On February 25, India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire after the Line of Control (LOC) that separated the two countries. The two countries have been locked in intense cross-border military aggression over the last two decades. The ceasefire at the LOC was last agreed upon in 2003.

“Some analysts believe these developments at the borders with China and Pakistan show that India's regional strategy is rapidly adapting to the reality of the post-Trump era,” said Long Xingchun, a senior research fellow with the Academy of Regional and Global Governance at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

“For the residents of India and Pakistan living near the actual line of control in Kashmir, the torment of war has become commonplace. A whole generation of people has grown up in military friction, cross-border firefights, and explosive attacks. Such days have lasted for decades as if there is no end in sight,” reported China Youth Daily.

Violence in Myanmar

“At least 14 people were killed and scores injured by mid-afternoon as riot police and soldiers opened fire with live rounds and rubber bullets on anti-coup protests in multiple locations across Myanmar on Sunday” reported Irrawaddy.

Ambassador Zhang Jun, the Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations, spoke on the situation in Myanmar.

“Zhang Jun said that as a friendly neighbor of Myanmar, China pays close attention to the recent events in Myanmar. We don't want to see an unstable or even chaotic situation in Myanmar. Both the military and political parties are members of the Myanmar family, and they should all take up the historical responsibility of maintaining the country’s stability and development,” reported China News Network.

“China analysts based in Hong Kong agreed that Beijing was likely not pleased with the turmoil spreading across the country after the Feb. 1 coup. China has multibillion-dollar economic and strategic investments in the pipeline that were blessed by the leaders of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, which controlled the civilian-led government that the military overthrew” reported Nikkei Asian Review

Don’t Miss Out

‘Pony Ma will make the proposal at the National People’s Congress (NPC), which starts on Friday, the report said. Hundreds of proposals are likely to be submitted at the annual gathering, though most are suggestions by individual delegates and are not discussed in parliament.

“It is recommended to carry out government guidance and development in specific areas such as online education, online healthcare and financial technology,” CNR cited Ma’s proposal as saying. Those are all areas in which Tencent is involved, though the report did not name specific businesses’ reported Reuters.

“SBS has announced it is temporarily suspending its daily broadcast of the Chinese government's Mandarin news bulletin after a human rights group accused the public broadcaster of possibly airing forced confessions”, reported ABC News.

Business Street

Walmart’s Flipkart Considers US Listing With SPAC as Option — Bloomberg Quint

Upcoming Watch

On March 11, China’s National People’s Congress will vote to overhaul Hong Kong’s election system. NPC is a rubber-stamp parliament, and the resolution will pass without any opposition.

NPC’s meeting will come to a close on March 11.