Asia Communique — Week 31

China's new space station — Crackdown on Tencent and Meituan — Worsening COVID crisis in India — China in South Asia

China's new space station

China on Thursday sent into space the core module — called Tianhe module — of its space station in a The Long March-5B Y2 rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site at 11:23 a.m. (Beijing Time). The state media extensively focused on the space station module’s launch. The home page of major state media outlets had pictures of the launch for at least two days.

“The space station will form a T-shape with Tianhe at the center and two lab capsules, Wentian and Mengtian, on each side, according to Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program” reported CGTN.

The Brookings Institution has published a detailed report on China’s cyber capabilities. One of the paper's co-authors is Rush Doshi, who is now on President Biden’s National Security Council.

Crackdown on Tencent and Meituan

After Alibaba, the Chinese regulators are likely to target Tencent and Meituan for their anti-trust practices.

“China is preparing a substantial fine for Tencent Holdings (0700.HK) as part of its sweeping antitrust clampdown on the country’s internet giants, but it is likely to be less than the record $2.75 billion penalty imposed on Alibaba earlier this month, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said” reported Reuters.

“China’s top market regulator, the State Administration for Market Regulation, on Monday said it had launched a probe into Hong Kong-listed Meituan for suspected monopolistic behaviours, including the practice of “er xuan yi,” or “choose one out of two.” The practice prevents merchants from selling their goods on multiple platforms,” reported Wall Street Journal.

‘China’s food delivery apps have come under fire for their treatment of employees after a television exposé featured an undercover government official posing as a delivery rider for Meituan.

The programme, which aired on a state-run television channel in Beijing on Wednesday, featured a senior official from the government’s municipal human resources bureau working a 12-hour delivery shift.

After earning just Rmb41 ($6.34) for the work, Wang Lin, the bureau’s deputy head of labour relations, was filmed sitting on a kerb describing the experience. “It’s truly too difficult, and what’s more, I felt very aggrieved,” he said’ reported Financial Times.

“Tencent should expect a penalty of at least 10 billion yuan ($1.54 billion), significant enough for the State Administration of Market Regulation (SAMR) to make an example of it, both people said,” reported Reuters.

China tells India to ‘cherish’ current stalemate

“China's position on the China-India boundary issue is consistent and clear. We hope that the Indian side will cherish the current hard-won situation, abide by the relevant agreement relevant agreements and agreements and the two militaries,” said Chinese Defence Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian.

The statement came across as China telling India that this is where we will draw the line, and PLA will not move back any further.

“China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has rotated two large field formations it had deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh in 2020-21 by inducting two fresh divisions earlier this month, Indian military and intelligence sources have revealed” reported Strat News Global. The news outlet that reported the story isn’t a very reliable source. I will wait to watch if China’s troop deployment has somehow changed in recent days.

India and China’s foreign ministers have also discussed resolving the border issue as per the previously agreed conditions.

China in South Asia

Chinese Defence Minister visited Bangladesh and Sri Lanka this past week.

“The Chinese side appreciates Sri Lanka's position on issues relating to China's Taiwan, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and will as always support Sri Lanka's stance on issues relating to human rights and national reconciliation, Wei said” reported CGTN.

“Bangladesh's President Abdul Hamid on Tuesday met with visiting Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe here, and the two sides agreed to advance the bilateral military cooperation”, reported Xinhua.

Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe also visited Vietnam this past week.

“General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong and Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday respectively met with visiting Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi” reported Xinhua.

Worsening COVID crisis in India

President Xi Jinping wrote to Prime Ministers Modi over the worsening COVID-19 pandemic in India.

“Xi Jinping expressed his concern for the recent situation of the new crown pneumonia epidemic in India. On behalf of the Chinese government and the Chinese people, and in my own name, I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the government and people of India. Mankind is a community of shared destiny. Only through unity and cooperation can countries in the world finally overcome the epidemic. China is willing to strengthen cooperation with India in the fight against the epidemic and provide support and help to India. I believe that under the leadership of the Indian government, the Indian people will be able to overcome the epidemic,” said the Chinese foreign ministry in a statement.

The Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong, was interviewed by Global Times.

“China will make its utmost efforts to provide help to India in accordance with the demands of the Indian side, and the production of at least 40,000 oxygen generators as the orders placed by India is underway. Chinese companies will soon deliver necessary medical supplies to India,” Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong told the Global Times in an exclusive interview. 

While other countries have helped India through aid, China has mostly fulfilled the commercial contracts for oxygen order by private companies in India.

‘In a letter to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Mr Wang said that the Chinese side "shares empathy for the challenges facing India and expresses sincere sympathy”’ reported NDTV.

“China has provided more than 20,000 oxygen generators to India” was the 10th trend on Weibo.
“The chief executive of India’s Serum Institute, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, has warned that shortages of jabs will persist for months after Narendra Modi’s government failed to prepare for a devastating second coronavirus wave. Adar Poonawalla told the Financial Times that India’s severe vaccine shortage would continue through July when production is expected to increase from about 60m-70m doses a month to 100 m,” reported Financial Times.

“Indian vaccine manufacturer CEO fled to the UK” (印度疫苗生产商CEO逃往英国) was the 6th trend on Baidu on May 3.

Central Political & Legal Affairs Commission of China shared a Weibo post on May 1 comparing China’s space module launch with funeral pyres in India. The post with the pictures read “China’s firing vs India’s firing”.

The post was later deleted. But the pictures were shared on Twitter, and they were found to be reprehensible and distasteful.

Earlier, an official Weibo account by Ministry of Public Security had shared a post comparing China’s construction of a hospital at the height of the COVID pandemic in Wuhan with India’s funeral pyres.

This post was also deleted on Weibo as well.

Some state media journalists have said these Weibo posts don’t represent the official view of the Chinese government, but the account belongs to a Communist Party entity. I have read the comments on Weibo related to these posts. Most Weibo accounts that commented actually support the views expressed via the images. Some accounts criticised the use of images by the official Weibo account of the party.

PLA this week

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has released its annual military spending report.

“China stands out as the only major spender in the world not to increase its military burden in 2020 despite increasing its military expenditure, because of its positive GDP growth last year,” said Dr Nan Tian, SIPRI Senior Researcher.

“Any fair comparison of military might needs to account for such differences. Just as The Economist calculates currencies’ purchasing-power-parity (PPP) in terms of Big Macs, Peter Robertson, a professor at the University of Western Australia, has devised a “military PPP”…..The PPP figures make America look far less dominant. At market exchange rates, SIPRI’s estimate of China’s spending is $252bn, just one-third of America’s; at PPP, it jumps to two-thirds. (The official Chinese figure is just $184bn in nominal dollars, but is seen as unrealistically low.) Proportionally, the effect is even greater for Russia, whose $62bn outlay buys $177bn of military value, and bigger still for India, whose $318bn-worth of spending is more than four times its $73bn budget,” said The Economist.

‘In several articles published in the last week, PLA Daily pointed out shortcomings in the ground force’s training system, saying many manoeuvres looked “very tough”, but were “actually distinctly outdated and inefficient,”’ reported South China Morning Post.

This past week China’s Liaoning carrier was spotted in the Philippines Sea, and Arleigh Burke-class USS Mustin was trailing the carrier.

Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong formation recently carried out a training in the South China Sea, said PLA Navy spokesperson Gao Xiucheng, according to CCTV Asia Pacific.

“The vessel left its base in Sanya, Hainan province on Wednesday towards Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines. But it remained not far outside Sanya the next day, without any substantial change in location, according to satellite images posted by a Facebook page tracking military and satellite information,” reported Apple Daily.

“The news sparked suspicions that this was due to monitoring by the American and Japanese military, as the vessel was forced to stay near its base and unable to cruise beyond.”

“Since the current US administration took office, the number of activities conducted by US warships and surveillance aircraft in the sea areas around China has increased by more than 20% and 40% respectively over the same period last year. The US frequently sends ships and aircraft to conduct activities in waters and airspace around China, escalating regional militarization and threatening regional peace and stability. China is firmly opposed to that. We urge the US side to strictly restrain its troops on the ground, abide by the "Rules of Behaviour for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters between China and the US" and "International Maritime Collision Prevention Regulations", to prevent the recurrence of similar dangerous incidents” said Chinese Defence Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian.

New Concept Weapons: China Explores New Mechanisms to Win War — Jamestown Foundation

Don’t Miss Out

“There are 33 small earth sealed tombs in the north and 6 large earth sealed tombs in the south. The largest one is about 40 meters long. The rescue excavation, conducted by the Institute for the protection of cultural relics of the Tibet Autonomous Region, lasted for nearly five months and unearthed ornaments such as gold and silver, lapis lazuli, agate, coral, turquoise, jade and pearl, as well as pottery, bronze, iron, lacquerware fragments and stone products” said a report about the discovery made at an archaeological site north of Lhasa, Tibet.

“Global foreign direct investment flows ebbed to a 15-year low last year and China, one of the few major economies to eke out growth, overtook the United States as the top destination, OECD data showed on Friday”

“A Taiwanese military expert has advised the nation's armed forces to closely monitor China's development of a new refueling tanker aircraft, warning that it would significantly boost the Chinese air force's capability to carry out long-range raids.”

“Inner Mongolia—one of China’s five Autonomous Regions, akin to provinces—contributes about 8% of global hashrate. Or at least it did, before the provincial government imposed a ban on Bitcoin mining in March, citing heavy pollution, and gave the mine operators two months to clear out,” reported Fortune Magazine.

“China currently holds 35% of all 6G patents worldwide, according to a recent report authored by the Chinese Patent Office.

“The document was released on Sunday in a press conference, according to Communications Weekly, a state-owned publication. 6G is the next, next generation of telecommunications technology, which can be 100 times faster than 5G and enable a seamless connection between cellular and satellite networks,” reported The Protocol.

“Interviews with labor rights advocates and a dozen Chinese workers employed by state-owned companies and subcontractors reflect a pattern of abuse that threatens to undermine China’s ambitious bid for diplomatic and economic influence, a mission closely tied to the legacy of leader Xi Jinping. Many spoke on the condition of full or partial anonymity, fearing retribution,” reported Washington Post.

“On the discussion forum Douban, video clips of Zhao holding her trophy and posts about her acceptance speech were removed. While users could post about her win on WeChat, articles were deleted, including one by a popular film reviewer who posted an article with the movie’s title, “Nomadland,” a dozen times over”, reported Washington Post.

“The true origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19 that emerged in China, remains unclear. DIA and the IC continue to examine new information to determine whether the initial outbreak occurred naturally through contact with infected animals or was the result of a laboratory accident,” said Scott Berrier, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency during a testimony.

“Due to geopolitical tension between the U.S. and China, China's semiconductor development has suffered some setbacks, and as a result, China has become more aggressive in poaching and targeting top Taiwanese chip talent to help build a self-sufficient supply chain,” the Taiwanese ministry of labour said in a notice.

Data Security Law of the People's Republic of China (Draft) (Second Deliberation Draft) — China Law Translate

Social Talk

A social media trend related to the British broadcaster BBC was widely shared on Weibo, WeChat and across state media’s website.

“BBC: Are you forced? Chinese citizens: I volunteered!” BBC:你被迫的?中国市民:我自愿的!trended on WeChat.

The trend on based on a segment in which BBC’s Robin Brant asks people in the streets in Yiwu, Zhejiang, if they were forced to take the vaccine. A video with locals saying that they took the vaccine without coercion was shared on Weibo and WeChat.

Xinhua and other state media outlets mocked the BBC correspondent.

Movers and Shakers

Huawei Is Bad for Business — Doowan Lee and Shannon Brandao

Washington Is Avoiding the Tough Questions on Taiwan and China — Charles L. Glaser

Off-Track Reads

Can America Tame the Dragon? — Book review (Ryan Haass)

Spirituality and politics inside a Chinese Buddhist temple — SupChina

Shots in the Dark — The Wire China

Upcoming Watch

Taiwan will host the annual Cybersec 2021 expo on Tuesday. The event will include speeches by President Tsai Ing-wen and a representative of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy.

Note: The second Weibo post comparing construction of hospital in Wuhan with burning of pyres in India was shared from a Ministry of Public Security official account and not by Legal Affairs Commission. The correction was made later. My apologies.