Asia Communique — Week 28

'Asian NATO' — 'Ping-Pong Diplomacy' at 50 — Bhutan-China relations — India-China border talks

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“Ping-Pong Diplomacy” at 50

China is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the storied Ping-Pong diplomacy era.

“At the conclusion of the 31st World Championships in Nagoya, Japan, at the invitation of the Chinese table tennis team, the U.S. table tennis team arrived on April 10, 1971, to commence their visit to China, becoming the first U.S. group to visit since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The Chinese team paid a return visit the following year. The mutual visits broke the ice in two decades of estranged Sino-U.S. relations and eventually led to the normalization of bilateral ties,” reported Xinhua.

‘Former world champions Xu Yinsheng, 83, Zhang Xielin, 81, and Shi Zhihao, 62, take part in a challenge for a ceremony held in the International Table Tennis Federation Museum in Shanghai to mark 50 years of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy”’ reported Xinhua.

“The people's aspiration for a better life has always been the goal of our unremitting work. To build a community with a shared future for mankind together with all peoples, including the American people, is our constant pursuit. China is willing and ready to work with the US side in the Ping Pong spirit of mutual respect, friendship and win-win, with a view to helping each other to achieve greater success through mutually beneficial cooperation and healthy competition,” said Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Ambassador to the US.

“But it would haunt Cowan, who later seemed lost out of the limelight and reportedly suffered from mental illness. It would lead star Chinese player Zhuang Zedong to banishment amid political turmoil, and attempted suicide, according to his New York Times obituary. And a year later it would result in a Rose Garden snub to the team that was the key to the breakthrough. That Saturday in 1971, a delegation of nine players, four officials and two family members crossed from then-British Hong Kong into mainland China, becoming the first Americans allowed in since the Communist revolution in 1949,” wrote Michael Ruane for Washington Post.

Asian NATO — 亚太北约

The “Asian NATO” or “Asia-Pacific NATO” concept has become a hot topic of discussion on Chinese social media and Chinese state media platforms. The growing cooperation among Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries is partly the reason behind the surge in interest. One Chinese commentator traced back the origin of the concept to Madhav Das Nalapat’s 2002 book.

“According to reports, on March 17, local time, US Secretary of Defense Austin came to Japan. However, something shocking happened. Yoshihide Suga bent over to Austin. This was indeed a very historic bow. At the same time, South Korea may be forced to join the Asian NATO, is the United Nations army coming again?” an article in SOHU said.

“The Asian version of NATO is a description of it by the media, and it is widely regarded as a good fit for Washington's ambitions. Sullivan denies this title, but it is also a kind of realism. Because he must know that the difficulty of engaging in "Asian NATO" now is about the same as turning all Asian countries into a state in the United States”, said a feature editorial in Nanning Evening News.

“Those American elites who dare not say but think of “Asian NATO” in their hearts are extremely poor in strategic thinking. George Kenan, who used the “long telegram” to promote the Cold War in those years, seems to be the “Jesus” of the entire strategic community in the United States today, and that “long telegram” can also be used as a “Bible” to be read across the ages” added the editorial.

“Instead, what is needed is for Washington to take the initiative in creating an Asian NATO — a North America Asia Treaty Organization, or NAATO — that would include Canada, the United States, Mexico, India, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan,” wrote Madhav Nalapat in his blog in 2003.

“While an “Asian NATO” as such is not practical for various reasons, the Quad can instead adopt a NATO-like model and develop and implement strengthened multilateral security cooperation through a series of phases,” wrote Bruce Weinrod, former defence Advisor to the US mission at NATO.

I would recommend reading the entire article by Weinrod in The Hill.

But some experts have claimed that China wants to promote the “Asia NATO” concept to create fissures on ASEAN’s relationship with NATO.

“China will launch mass activities to mark the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Various activities will be held to inspire the whole Party, the whole army and all the Chinese people of various ethnic groups to stay true to the original aspiration, hold on to the mission, and work hard to make their due contributions, according to a circular recently issued by the General Office of the CPC Central Committee” reported Xinhua.

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India-China hold 11th round of military talks

India and China held the 11th round of talks in the Moldo-Chushul meeting point in Eastern Ladakh this past Friday. The talks went on for multiple hours late into the night, as we have seen during other talks. But there was no joint statement issued this time around. A defence reporter has said the talks are in a “deadlock” and hit a “hurdle”.

Full translation of the statement issued by PLA:

“On April 10, senior colonel long Shaohua, spokesman of the Western Theater of the Chinese people's Liberation Army, made a speech on the 11th round of China India military commander level talks. He pointed out that on April 9, the Chinese and Indian armies held the 11th round of military commander level talks on the Indian side of the Moldo/Chushul meeting point. The two sides exchanged views on mutual concern issues and will continue to maintain communication through military, diplomatic channels. It is hoped that the Indian side will cherish the current positive trend/momentum of easing and cooling in the Sino-Indian border area, abide by the relevant agreements and agreements between the two armed forces and the consensus reached in the preliminary talks, and work with the Chinese side to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border area.”

India and China have said they are willing to continue the dialogue.

“Sources in the defence and security establishment said the Army has retained a higher number of troops and equipment in Ladakh, besides the 3 Div, in charge of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the 14 Corps Reserve. This includes some of the formations pumped in last year following the tensions with China, besides new elements brought in for summer deployment,” reported The Print India.

The Tibetan regional government has announced three new airport projects.

“With a total investment of over 13.6 billion yuan ($2 billion), the projects include three new airports in the counties of Burang, Dingri and Lhunze, as well as a runway expansion at the region's Gongkar Airport”, reported China Daily.

“The Khalistan nation-building movement is still developing in the dark. Maybe one day there will be a large-scale turmoil in India, and a new country may also appear on the India-Pakistan border,” said an article on the Chinese platform iFeng.

‘The Tibet autonomous region on Tuesday introduced 15 border regulations “to maintain security and stability of the border area”, the official Tibet Daily reported. A military insider said the regulations – reiterating that actions such as moving border markers and damaging military facilities were illegal – were aimed at “preventing any infiltration activities”’ reported South China Morning Post.

What was even more interesting was this bit:

‘“All the bans are updated rules based on previous border regulations, with the key mission being to prevent exiled Tibetans trying to infiltrate Chinese borders,” the insider, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, told the South China Morning Post. They added that, according to Chinese officials, more than 10,000 exiled Tibetan were being trained as “special operation troops” by India’

I think there might be more hype than any actual action on this story about securing the border in Tibet. The Tibetan regional government could issue a directive that seeks to remind officials about priorities rather than taking any concrete action.

Chinese, Indian militaries agree to maintain contact after 11th round of talks — CGTN

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US Navy enrages Indian commentariat

A US Navy statement inspired strong sentiments among India’s commentariat over a FONOP operation by the 7th Fleet’s USS John Paul Jones.

“According to the United States 7th Fleet, USS John Paul Jones carried out a freedom of navigation operation near India’s Lakshadweep Islands on April 7. The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer “asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law,” a statement from the Fleet claimed” reported the Diplomat.

The news was widely discussed on Chinese social media and reported by the Chinese state media.

“US warships entered into India's exclusive economic zone” was one of the trends on Twitter-like social media platform, Sina Weibo.

People’s Daily Online Science and Technology Office published a headline saying, “Is it not just the United States that is sending warships to invade India's exclusive economic zone?”. This story said cited a 20-year-old case in which a British ship had entered India’s EEZ.

US 7th Fleet’s patrol in India’s EEZ was an act of impropriety — Arun Prakash

Bhutan-China Expert Group Meeting

“The 10th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on China-Bhutan Boundary was held in Kunming, China, from 6-9 April 2021. The Chinese delegation was led by Mr Hong Liang, Director General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, and the Bhutanese delegation was led by Mr Letho Tobdhen Tangbi, Secretary of the International Boundaries,” said Joint Press Release after the meeting.

“A joint release said the EGM was held in a warm and friendly atmosphere and held in-depth and fruitful discussions on the boundary issue in keeping with the close ties of friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and China. The EGM discussed a roadmap to expedite the Bhutan-China Boundary Talks.

The two sides agreed to continue to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas pending a final settlement of the boundary issue,” reported The Bhutanese.

The joint statement indicated that Bhutan and China are planning to hold the next round of boundary talks soon. “The two sides agreed to hold the 25th Round of China-Bhutan Boundary Talks and the 11th EGM as soon as possible at mutually convenient dates”, Joint Press Release added.

The Expert Group Meeting comes after China added a new area to the list of a boundary dispute with Bhutan around the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary.

Read the BBC’s explainer on what’s behind the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary dispute.

In the past, India has had reservations about direct contact between Bhutan and China. In my opinion, the Expert Group Meeting with Bhutan may have been part of a demand raised with India during talks to resolve military stand-off in Eastern Ladakh. I am speculating here without any evidence to back up my assertion.

Bhutan is leading the way at vaccinating all of its citizens.

“Within a single week a world-beating 85% of Bhutan’s adult population had received a first shot. Only two countries, Israel and the Seychelles, have vaccinated a (slightly) higher proportion of people, but both took months to do so,” said The Economist.

There are some interesting comments about US-China relations in a new global threat assessment report by the US Office of Director of National Intelligence.

“The United States and China will have the greatest influence on global dynamics, forcing starker choices on the other actors, increasing jockeying over global norms rules and institutions, and heightening the risk of interstate conflict,” said the Global Trends 2040 report.

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Don’t Miss Out

“The Biden administration on Thursday placed seven Chinese firms and government labs under U.S. export controls for their involvement in China’s effort to build supercomputers that help develop nuclear and other advanced military weapons.

All seven are linked to China’s ambition to build the world’s first exascale computer, Commerce Department officials said. An exascale computer — the next frontier in high- performance computing — can handle a million trillion calculations per second,” reported Washington Post.

The ban on seven PLA-linked firms resulted from an exclusive investigation by the Washington Post into China’s use of the US’s supercomputers in their Hypersonic Glide Vehicle program. The story has an interesting reference to Mianyang city in Sichuan province, where China has an installation for nuclear weapons development — and a special program on hypersonic missiles.

“China’s market regulator said Saturday it has fined Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. a record 18.2 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) for violating antitrust laws, marking a seismic moment in the government’s quest to rein in monopolistic behaviour by online platforms”, reported Caixin.

“We're happy to get the matter behind us, but the tendency is that regulators will be keen to look at some of the areas where you might have unfair competition”, a statement by Alibaba said.

“Executives told an analyst conference that while regulators were still probing China’s broader tech industry over past mergers and acquisitions, they did not know of any more specific investigations into Alibaba’s business. The company’s Hong Kong-listed stock was up 7.8 per cent after the remarks,” reported Financial Times.

“Under the new guidelines, US officials will be able to regularly host Taiwanese officials at federal government buildings. They will also be permitted to meet their counterparts at Taiwan’s economic and cultural offices, which serve as de facto embassies and consulates. US officials will also be able to attend events at Twin Oaks, a 17-acre estate in Washington that served as the residence of the Republican of China (Taiwan) ambassador until the US switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing,” reported Financial Times.

“Sources told the Yomiuri newspaper that the first F-35B jets would be based at the Air Self-Defence Force’s Nyutabaru Air Base in southern Miyazaki Prefecture to defend the country’s remote islands.

The airfield is about 1,030km northeast of the disputed Diaoyu Islands claimed by China but controlled by Japan, which refers to them as the Senkaku Islands,” reported SCMP.

‘A month later, the head of PowerChina, Mr Yan Zhiyong, partially unveiled the project to the Communist Youth League, the youth wing of China's ruling party.

Enthusiastic about "the world's richest region in terms of hydroelectric resources", Mr Yan explained that the dam would draw its power from the huge drop of the river at this particular section’ reported AFP about the much-discussed new hydroelectricity project on the Brahmaputra river (or the Yarlung Tsangpo).

“Japan will call for the first in-person meeting of Quad leaders to be held on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in the U.K. in June, as the group pursues greater cooperation to counter China's growing clout in the Indo-Pacific, Nikkei has learned” reported Nikkei Asian Review.

“We sincerely accept this punishment and resolutely obey it. We will strengthen the operation in accordance with the law, further strengthen the construction of the compliance system, based on innovation and development, and better fulfil our social responsibilities,” reported CCTV news

“Meanwhile, netizens are increasingly shifting their attention away from WeChat and toward Douyin, a completely different ecosystem. Douyin and its international counterpart TikTok have routinely topped the global chart of the most downloaded non-game app in Apple’s App Store since 2018. Douyin has amassed 550 million monthly active users. Though Tencent’s apps, WeChat included, still captured most user attention in 2020, compared with 2019, Chinese smartphone users were spending more time on ByteDance’s apps, including Douyin, and spending less time than they previously had on Tencent products, according to QuestMobile” reported The Protocol.

Djibouti-China marriage ‘slowly unravelling’ as investment project disappoints — France 24.

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Movers and Shakers

China’s Techno-Authoritarianism Has Gone Global — Maya Wang

The Sullivan Model — Elise Labott

Off-Track Reads

China thinks it can avoid Middle Eastern traps that caught America — The Economist

Business Street

The leading Asian tech players eyeing an IPO in 2021— Tech in Asia

Amazon readies plan B to deal with a legal setback — Live Mint

Upcoming Watch

China will conduct military exercise in the northern part of the Yellow Sea in the Bohai Strait from 16:00 on April 11 to 16:00 on April 18.

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