Li Keqiang (1955-2023), Biden and Xi agree to meet, and more fiscal stimulus
+ China sends its youngest-ever crew to space
Welcome to another edition of What’s Happening in China, a weekly newsletter that curates the latest and most important news and developments from the country.
Whether you are a businessperson, investor, government official, academic, media outlet, or general reader, if you want to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in and related to China, I encourage you to subscribe.
Simply click the button below to get What’s Happening in China in your inbox every Saturday.
Let’s jump into it…
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
When ‘poverty alleviation’ means forced labor for Uyghurs – The China Project
In a paper titled “The conceptual evolution of poverty alleviation through labor transfer in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region” published yesterday, Adrian Zenz argues that China is pursuing a policy of mass coerced labor under a separate system from the internment camps. His report also provides the first witness testimonies that Uyghurs who refused these state work assignments were sent to camps.
Such coercion is illegal under the International Labor Organisation (ILO), of which China is a member.
His new paper examines Xinjiang’s implementation of China’s National Poverty Alleviation through Labor Transfer program, under which “surplus rural laborers” are trapped in state-choreographed labor transfers under the banner of poverty alleviation and de-extremification.
This is a different policy from the mass internment regime that began in 2017 under then Party Secretary of Xinjiang Chén Quánguó 陈全国, under which hundreds of thousands and possibly more than than 1 million Uyghurs were detained in euphemistically named Vocational Skills Education and Training Centres (VSETCs). Many of them have been transferred to factories in Xinjiang and around China, where they are forced to work.
Trial of Uyghur film-maker to begin in China this week – The Guardian
A Uyghur film-maker who was arrested in Beijing earlier this year will appear on trial in Xinjiang on Wednesday.
Ikram Nurmehmet, 32, was taken from his home by Chinese authorities on 29 May and flown to Ürümqi, Xinjiang’s capital, where he is being held in pre-trial detention on unknown charges, according to his supporters.
Born and raised in Ürümqi, Nurmehmet is an independent film-maker based in Beijing, where he lives with his wife and infant son.
Hours after his arrest, police called his wife to notify her of his transfer to Xinjiang and asked her to bring clothes for him to the airport. There, she was able to meet Nurmehmet briefly, in the company of three officers who handed her his wedding ring and amulet. He told her she, “must now do the best she can”, a source close to the family told the Guardian.
A live Hikvision API guide explicitly listed the video analytic "are they an ethnic minority" (是否少数民族) until IPVM reached out for comment when Hikvision promptly deleted the evidence.
This directly contradicts Hikvision's repeated claims to have phased out minority recognition in 2018.
Ethnic minority alerts in the PRC are typically used to target Uyghurs, the subject of serious human rights violations, according to the UN.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
Li Keqiang obituary – The Guardian
Li Keqiang, who has died aged 68 of a heart attack, was the premier of the People’s Republic of China from 2013 to March 2023. Regarded as a reformist economist, in the decade before his appointment he had figured in many lists of those most likely to be the prime leader of the country after the expected retirement of Hu Jintao. But the final decade of Li’s career was mostly spent in the shadow of the man who eventually prevailed over him, Xi Jinping. Despite this, domestically and internationally he was regarded as a popular figure, and news of his unexpected death was met with respectful comments on Chinese social media.
How China Mourned Li Keqiang Online, Until the Censors Stepped In – The New York Times
They posted videos on social media of the time he promised that China would remain open to the outside world. They shared photos of him, standing in ankle-deep mud, visiting victims of a flood. They even noted the economic growth target for the first year of his premiership: 7.5 percent.
The death Friday of Li Keqiang, 68, prompted spontaneous mourning online. Mr. Li served as premier, China’s No. 2 official, for a decade until last March.
Among many Chinese, Mr. Li’s death produced a swell of nostalgia for what he represented: a time of greater economic possibility and openness to private business. The reaction was jarring and showed the dissatisfaction in China with the leadership of Xi Jinping, China’s hard-line leader who grabbed an unprecedented third term in office last year after maneuvering to have the longstanding limit of two terms abolished.
In post after post on social media, people praised Mr. Li more for what he stood for and said than for what he was able to accomplish under Mr. Xi, who drove economic policymaking during Mr. Li’s period in office.
Mr. Li was possibly the least powerful premier in the history of the People’s Republic of China. The grief over his passing reflected the public’s sense of loss for an era of reform and growth that has been abandoned, and their deep sense of powerlessness in the China of Mr. Xi, the most authoritarian leader since Mao Zedong.
A post that was widely circulated on several social media sites said that many Chinese people saw themselves in Mr. Li — people “who have struggled over the past decade but have gradually lost ground.”
Some Chinese universities have told students not to organise private commemoration activities for former premier Li Keqiang, in an apparent bid to avoid social turmoil.
A lecturer at Shanghai Jiao Tong University said its party committee had issued a notice calling on all faculties and departments to “do a good job on campus security and stability in the coming days to ensure that all aspects of public opinion remain safe and orderly”.
The lecturer, who declined to be named, said staff had been told to stay vigilant and put a stop to “inappropriate remarks” about Li’s death.
“Some of the student counsellors have been asked to remain on campus this weekend to keep track of student activities both on and off-campus, and to immediately report any private mourning activities to the university leadership,” he said.
“We’re not encouraging students to leave the campus this weekend, as some could join radical activities like last year,” he said, referring to protests in November over China’s tough Covid-19 restrictions.
Chen Daoyin, a political commentator and former professor at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said Beijing had learned from the events of 1989 that followed the death of Hu, a popular former leader who – like Li – had risen through the Communist Youth League system.
“Beijing will enter into a period of tightening security. Maintaining stability will become a major theme in coming days as they don’t want any mishaps during this difficult period,” Chen said.
Minitrue: Beware of "Overly Effusive Comments" on Late Premier Li Keqiang – China Digital Times
The warning against "overly effusive comments" about Li partly reflects general caution about "high-level black" remarks which "offer exaggerated praise on the surface in what is actually an act of criticism." In Li’s case, effusive praise is additionally barbed by implicit contrast with Xi Jinping, who effectively sidelined Li and his reformist, institutionalist inclinations.
ADAM NI, INDEPENDENT CHINA POLITICAL ANALYST, AUTHOR
"Li was a premier who stood powerless as China took a sharp turn away from reform and opening."
DALI YANG, POLITICS PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO:
"The scope for Li's policymaking and implementation had became more subordinated under President Xi Jinping, who had unabashedly dominated in politics and policy making, relegating Li to playing second fiddle.
"Xi had significantly overshadowed Li, leaving him with less room for initiative than past premiers."
CHEN DAOYIN, INDEPENDENT CHINESE POLITICAL ANALYST, CHILE:
"Li was someone with ideas but no solutions. He did not achieve much as premier. This is partly his own doing and cannot all be blamed on Xi.
"When he first came in power 10 years ago, he had many ideas, such as encouraging entrepreneurship, but no good plan on how to implement them. When these ideas failed to materialise, his power was gradually taken away from him, and he became the most powerless premier in four decades."
WEN-TI SUNG, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY:
"Li's sudden death definitely came as a surprise, as he was merely 68. Top level Chinese leaders have a track record of longevity - both of Li's last two living predecessors, Premier Zhu Rongji (95) and Premier Wen Jiabao (81), outlive him.
"Li will probably be remembered as an advocate for the freer market and for the have-nots. But most of all, he will be remembered for what could have been."
RICHARD MCGREGOR, SENIOR FELLOW, LOWY INSTITUTE, SYDNEY:
"The reformist era ended a long time ago. I don't think there is any correlation to Hu Yaobang (a political reformer whose death sparked mass mourning and the Tiananmen Square protests) and no heavy symbolic significance attached to Li's funeral.
"It's a shock because he's relatively young in a system which provides the best healthcare for its leaders."
CHONG JA IAN, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE:
"I would not rule out the possibility that a mass mourning triggers some protest, given how there is a degree of unease in the PRC (People's Republic of China) currently...
"The fact that there is so much speculation on Li’s cause of death shows a degree of uncertainty and distrust, that reflects unease over the opaqueness and arbitrariness of the top (Communist Party) leadership, as seen with recent sudden and unexplained removals of leaders.”
The Passing of a Premier and China’s Future – Council on Foreign Relations
While few are likely to mourn one of China's most colorless leaders, his death could be used as a way to criticize his former boss, Xi Jinping
The announcement from state broadcaster CCTV said that both Li and Qin had been removed from the State Council, China’s Cabinet and the center of government power. That virtually assures the end of their political careers, although it remains unclear whether they will face prosecution or other legal sanctions.
CCTV also announced Lan Fo’an’s new appointment as finance minister, and Yin He’jun as science and technology minister.
China's national legislature on Tuesday passed a law to strengthen patriotic education for children and families, state media reported, to counter challenges such as "historical nihilism" and safeguard "national unity".
The Patriotic Education Law provides a legal guarantee for carrying out patriotic education, state-backed Xinhua news agency reported, adding that some people "are at a loss about what is patriotism."
"Historical nihilism" is a phrase used in China to describe public doubt and scepticism over the Chinese Communist Party's description of past events.
The law, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, outlines the responsibilities for central and local government departments as well as in schools and for families.
"While it is enacted to promote patriotism, the law stresses the need to be rational, inclusive and open-minded, open the country wider to the world and embrace other civilisations," Xinhua said.
All state employees with access to classified information will be banned from travelling overseas without prior approval – and even for a period after they leave the job or retire – under a draft revision of China’s state secrets law.
A dozen new clauses have been added to the Law on Guarding State Secrets in the revision, the details of which were made public on Wednesday.
The revision – the first in a decade – expands the depth and reach of the law’s coverage, ranging from education, technology and internet use to military facilities. The sweeping changes come as Beijing is locked in an intelligence war with the US and its allies and reflects that national security remains a top policy priority for the leadership.
Beijing's Message to the National Women's Congress: Gender Equality Is Out, Family and Childbirth Are In – Council on Foreign Relations
The 13th National Women's Congress, which opened in Beijing on Monday, October 23, gave indications of a deepening policy shift within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarding the status and role of women in society. Changes in language employed by Party leaders in their address to the Congress this year suggest they are steadily moving away from the CCP’s rhetorical embrace of gender equality, and towards a more full-throated embrace of traditional gender norms as a core Party political plank.
Inside China, the government is cracking down on queer and feminist spaces. The Chinese-speaking diaspora is stepping up to create those spaces outside China.
An unwritten rule that grants entry into nightclubs and parties in cities across China based only on the looks of their customers is fueling a trend in beauty-enhancing tricks such as fake belly button stickers and lower eyelash stamps. The trend has ignited a widespread debate on social media about beauty standards and drawn warnings from activists about its detrimental effects on young people.
In China’s growing number of universities meant for the elderly, young Chinese are finding good value for their money — and company.
Through talks, workshops, and a magazine, a group of like-minded friends in Shanghai are encouraging people to reject consumerist culture and make better use of their cities’ public spaces. Their message is falling on receptive ears.
Li Yuhan, the Chinese human rights lawyer who won the 2020 Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, has been sentenced to six and a half years in prison. Detained six years ago, she was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
Li, who was tried in 2021, was sentenced on Oct. 25 in the First Courtroom of Heping District Court in the Liaoning Province city of Shenyang. She will receive credit for her time in detention and has filed to appeal the sentence.
She represented Chinese rights lawyer Wang Yu during the "709 Crackdown" in 2015, when China launched a sweeping crackdown on more than 300 lawyers and human rights defenders.
HONG KONG & MACAO
Hong Kong authorities will set up a high-level unit in response to a new national law passed on Tuesday that lays down goals and guiding principles to boost patriotism across the country, the Post has learned.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu will announce the establishment of the new coordination unit to promote patriotic education when he delivers his second policy address on Wednesday, according to an insider.
The government would also set up a new office to promote traditional Chinese culture and a museum to commemorate the city’s resistance against Japanese occupation during the second world war, the source said.
Security chief Chris Tang has not given a clear answer to whether opposing the legislation of Hong Kong’s own security law would violate the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.
Hong Kong’s leader John Lee said in his Policy Address on Wednesday that the government was “pressing ahead” to legislate the city’s own security law in 2024 – a timetable that has been repeated by government officials over the past few months.
Several long-standing measures designed to curb property speculation and reduce external demand have been eased in a bid to boost Hong Kong’s ailing housing market, Chief Executive John Lee has announced.
Lee announced the changes to various stamp duties during his second Policy Address, which was delivered to lawmakers on Wednesday.
From Wednesday, the Special Stamp Duty (SSD) period was shortened from three to two years, meaning that if an owner got rid of their property after two years of acquiring it, they would not need to pay the 10 per cent SSD.
Also announced with immediate effect on Wednesday was “a stamp duty suspension arrangement for incoming talents’ acquisition of residential properties,” Lee said.
Hong Kong will step up disaster preparedness in response to recent extreme weather events, including by reviewing transport arrangements and improving drainage works.
Delivering his second Policy Address on Wednesday since running unopposed to become chief executive, John Lee said the government had already strengthened “co-ordination and teamwork” in response to recent typhoons and torrential rainstorms – but that more could be done.
“With global climate change intensifying, it is likely that we will experience extreme weather more often,” Lee said.
Hong Kong denies visa to scholar of China’s 1989 Tiananmen crackdown – Financial Times
Hong Kong has denied a visa to Rowena He, an eminent scholar of China’s bloody 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, preventing her from returning to her teaching post in the city and fuelling concerns about academic freedom in the Chinese territory.
He, a Canadian citizen who was associate professor in history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the Financial Times she had also been “terminated with immediate effect” by the university on Friday, with CUHK citing the city immigration department’s rejection of her visa renewal as a reason.
“People told me that I should not work on Tiananmen from the very beginning,” said He, who at present has a temporary research position at the University of Texas at Austin. “It would not come without a price. This time, the price is the ending of my academic life in Hong Kong.”
Chinese authorities have launched tax and land-use investigations into Foxconn, the world's largest contract electronics maker, in what some experts say may be a warning to U.S. companies and the Biden administration.
"This is a shot across the bow — a message to Foxconn but also to Foxconn's customers, alerting them that if relations between China and the U.S. get worse, these companies could incur costs," said Chris Miller, associate professor of international history at Tufts University and author of "Chip War."
"The hope in Beijing would be that these companies would then lean on their governments to improve relations."
The visiting speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, addressed Taiwan's Legislature on Tuesday, highlighting the shared values that brought both sides closer and stressing the importance of continued economic cooperation.
"Both Taiwan and Lithuania are guided by the belief that people are the creators of their own destiny," Čmilytė-Nielsen said in her speech titled "Beyond Borders: Vitality of Democratic Cooperation."
Taiwan and Lithuania "share a goal of preserving the principles of democracy," which serves as "our common ground" and a foundation for a relationship that "transcends geographical distances," said Čmilytė-Nielsen, who is the first sitting Lithuanian speaker to visit Taiwan.
If you were in Taiwan during 2021, you can't have failed to notice the government's social media campaign to promote rum-based cocktail recipes.
It was a state-level effort to use up some 20,400 bottles of rum that were originally bound from Lithuania to China, which Taipei hastily purchased.
Taiwan celebrates diversity, inclusion in Pride parade – Focus Taiwan
An estimated 176,000 people, many waving rainbow flags, marched through the streets of Taiwan's capital Taipei on Saturday to celebrate LGBT+ inclusion in Asia's largest Pride parade.
This year's parade, called the 2023 Taiwan LGBT+ Pride, was aimed at "recognizing the diversity of every person, and respecting and accepting different gender identities," according to the event's organizer, the Taiwan Rainbow Civil Association.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to What's Happening in China to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.