Welcome to the China Foreign Policy Letter. This week’s highlights: China emerges aggressive diplomacy a Beijing court hears a landmark case of sexual harassmentand where China stacks up in the Race for a coronavirus vaccine.
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Wine tariffs follow aggressive patterns
China’s relationship with Australia keeps reaching new lows.
After threatening Canberra with a list of 14 claims, Beijing imposed high tariffs on Australian wine – a key export item – last Friday after a series of unofficial trade restrictions in recent weeks. Subsequently, State Department spokesman Zhao Lijian, who is known for trolling other countries on social media, tweeted a picture of an Australian soldier cutting a child’s throat – an indication of war crimes allegations against several Australian soldiers. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for the tweet to be removed.
This behavior is not new to Zhao, but it is now clear that the Chinese state supports his trolling. In the past, the tweet would likely have been silently deleted. In the current environment of ultra-nationalism, the State Department defended the quote. Some Chinese advisors tried to curb what is known as wolf warrior diplomacy earlier this year, but the winds are clearly against them. Other Chinese media outlets, including the People’s Daily, supported Zhao, and thousands of Chinese bots expressed their support on Twitter.
Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s election as National Security Advisor, has already shown strong support for Australia. China hawks in Washington are closely monitoring Australia’s experience as they view the country as a pioneer in attempted Chinese influence. Biden has also stated that he has no plans to abandon outgoing President Donald Trump’s trade war tariffs until a “coherent strategy” is in place.
Australia is particularly vulnerable to Chinese pressures as its decades-long economic boom was in large part driven by exports to the Chinese market, particularly minerals. A third of all Australian exports go to China, and politicians like former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd once saw the country’s future as inextricably linked to China.
But the combination of the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s mounting aggression has turned Canberra against it. Stronger defensive ties with the United States, which will lead to further Chinese retaliation, are more likely than concessions.
A milestone in sexual harassment. A Beijing court heard a critical case of sexual harassment today by Zhou Xiaoxuan, known online as Xianzi, a screenwriter who claims she was attacked by famous TV host Zhu Jun while she was an intern at CCTV (now CGTN). Originally dismissed by the police, Zhou filed a civil suit under recently introduced laws. Zhu denies her claims and has launched several counterclaims.
Zhou is a key figure in driving China’s #MeToo movement, organizing and inspiring others online. Despite the freezing winter in Beijing, hundreds of supporters, mostly women, demonstrated in support outside the courthouse. However, victory in this case is unlikely, given the power of Zhu, a highly politicized judicial system, and the novelty of the laws. The discussion of the case was censored online.
Global times Debacle. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times and a prominent propagandist, faces potential political problems after its deputy editor accused of fathering two children with employees. Children born out of wedlock in China often face legal discrimination, including the inability to access public education or health care.
Hu has called the allegations fabricated – an alleged conspiracy by his deputy to try to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him within the Chinese Communist Party. Hu is unpopular in the People’s Daily, which owns the Global Times, but his business success and political intelligence have so far protected him. This case might not get him over the line, but it can’t help him.
Shifting conspiracy theories. As I predicted during the US election, Trump’s conspiracy theories about electoral fraud are heading towards the obvious villain: China. Trump himself did not specifically blame Beijing for his November 3 loss, but conspiratorial lawyer Sidney Powell has alleged a tripartite conspiracy between Venezuela, China and Iran.
The Epoch Times, the Falun Gong-run newspaper, continues to be a major source of disinformation about far-right elections and pushes the idea of sinister Chinese conspiracies into the US conservative media sphere.
Vaccination race. China lags slightly behind Europe and the United States in developing COVID-19 vaccines, but can have a key advantage in manufacturing and distribution because of the size of its manufacturing industry and the state’s ability to have resources. This is important because not only is the effectiveness of the vaccine important, but the ability to manufacture it on a large scale – especially when it comes to reaching the developing world, where vaccination is likely to become an important soft power- Tool will.
Moon landing. Chang’e 5, China’s first lunar sample return mission, successfully landed on the moon following precedents set by the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. China’s space program continues to make steady, well-funded progress. Space attorneys in the United States hope this will kickstart a second space race.
Until China does something unprecedented or dramatic like a new manned moon landing, the battle is unlikely to spark the public imagination.
Another one for the list. China National Electronics Import & Export Corporation, a medium-sized state-owned company specializing in construction and defense technology, was added to the list of US companies, freezing their assets in the US and banning US companies from doing business . It’s a little surprising that due to its close relationship with the People’s Liberation Army, it wasn’t on the list yet, but this time the nominal excuse is working in Venezuela.
“The summer before thirteen” by Xujun Eberlein
This powerful and tragic essay by Xujun Eberlein, a well-known translator, on the death of her older sister by drowning during the Cultural Revolution focuses on the immediate and intimate rather than the political. It also shows how much Chinese cities like Chongqing were on the battlefield in those chaotic days – and how big the gap is between the revolutionary romance of death and its reality.
That’s it for this week.
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