Belt and Road Forum, trade sanctions, and the Israel-Hamas conflict
+ key takeaways from the Pentagon's 2023 China report and China’s plan to judge the safety of generative AI
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PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) has found a company to conduct a labour audit at a site in Xinjiang, China, which it jointly owns with SAIC Motor Corp, two people familiar with the matter said, after pressure from investors for further due diligence.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not name the company in order not to jeopardise the process, which has become a key issue for some shareholders who are concerned about allegations of human rights abuses in the region.
Volkswagen investors at a shareholder meeting in May demanded that the carmaker request cooperation from its joint venture partner to conduct an independent audit of labour conditions at the site in Xinjiang, a region where rights groups have documented abuses including mass forced labour in detention camps.
China has denied all allegations of human rights abuses in the region.
It would be a rare move for the Chinese government to allow such an audit to be carried out.
Volkswagen plans to update investors on the status of the audit when it releases its third-quarter results on Oct. 26, two separate sources said.
In a joint statement, 51 countries, including the United States, expressed deep concern to the United Nations on Wednesday over Chinese human rights violations of Uyghurs in its far-western Xinjiang region.
The move comes after China was elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council for the 2024-2026 term – despite its poor track record in protecting rights.
“Members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang continue to suffer serious violations of their human rights by the authorities of the People’s Republic of China,” said the statement, which was delivered by James Kariuki, Britain’s U.N. ambassador.
It urged China to respond to an August 2022 report issued by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, which concluded China’s mass detentions of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities on a large scale in Xinjiang “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”
The report found that “serious human rights violations” have been committed in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region amid the Chinese government’s claims of countering terrorism and extremism.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
Chinese civil servants and employees of state-linked enterprises are facing tighter constraints on private travel abroad and scrutiny of their foreign connections, according to official notices and more than a dozen people familiar with the matter, as Beijing wages a campaign against foreign influence.
Ten current and former employees told Reuters the curbs had been widened since 2021 to include bans on overseas travel, tighter limits on trips' frequency and duration, onerous approval processes, and pre-departure confidentiality training. They said the measures were unrelated to COVID-19.
The actions reflect President Xi Jinping's focus on national security amid fraught relations with the West, two experts told Reuters. China in recent months has encouraged citizens to participate in anti-espionage activity, and introduced new laws that broadened the definition of spying.
A second draft of a "Patriotic Education Law" has been submitted to the National People's Congress Standing Committee for review, with a view to "enhancing identification with our great motherland, the Chinese nation, Chinese culture and the Communist Party," Xinhua news agency reported.
The draft, which analysts said is almost certain to be passed by the rubber-stamp parliament, also contains specific clauses about targeting "religious clergy and believers," while a top official has called on Hong Kong leader John Lee to announce more "patriotic education" measures in his annual policy address next week.
The law also refers to "self-confidence," a buzzword promoted by Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, whose "cultural thought" includes an emphasis on traditional Confucian values found in classical texts.
It comes as Xi launches a nationwide campaign to boost ruling party involvement in cultural output at every level, in a manner many have likened to Mao Zedong's 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
Authorities in China have banned a book about the last Ming dynasty emperor Chongzhen after online comments said its analysis could apply to current Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
“Chongzhen: The hard-working emperor who brought down a dynasty" by late Ming dynasty expert Chen Wutong recently disappeared from online bookstores, including the website of state-run Xinhua Books, with multiple searches for the book yielding no results on major book-selling platforms this week.
Meanwhile, keyword searches for the book and its author on the social media platform Weibo yielded no results on Thursday.
Current affairs commentators said the book has likely been removed from public view after online comments drew parallels between its analysis of the fall of the 1368-1644 Ming dynasty and China's current situation under ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
Many online comments picked up on a particular line in Chen's book: "With one bad move following another, the harder he worked, the faster he brought the country to ruin."
Confessions from a Chinese censorship worker – Global Voices
BP: I wish this censorship system would be abandoned soon. I hate this sector, it's so painful working here. But I can’t shift to another sector right now, that’s why I keep on learning whenever I have free time so that I can leave this hell… I am not condemning anyone; I just hope that people can have a bit more open environment for free expression. The current system is way too much.
What’s Behind China’s Laws to Protect Privacy? – ChinaFile
In his article “Authoritarian Privacy” for the University of Chicago Law Review, Mark Jia writes: “Privacy laws are traditionally associated with democracy. Yet autocracies increasingly have them.” In this ChinaFile Q&A, Jia and Samm Sacks engage in an exchange about what has motivated the Chinese government to enact and enforce a range of laws on information privacy and the implications for understanding the role of privacy laws in non-democratic states.
A Spark Extinguished – China Books Review
At the height of the Great Famine in 1960, a group of students exiled to the countryside launched a magazine that dared to tell the truth. Their convictions, and the love they bore for one another, were put to the test
With its slogan of “Chinese stomachs love Chinese burgers,” Tastien is at the vanguard of a group of local fast-food brands that are rapidly emerging as serious rivals to market leaders KFC and McDonald’s.
Though the Western brands have a huge head start, domestic upstarts like Tastien have attracted hefty venture capital investments and have expanded at an astonishing rate, opening thousands of outlets in just a few years.
To win over Chinese consumers, the companies have mostly adopted a tried-and-tested strategy: combining aggressive price cuts with patriotic marketing tactics designed to appeal to China’s growing love of local consumer brands.
A harrowing dog attack on a two-year-old in Chongzhou City, in the southwestern Sichuan province, this week has prompted a nationwide call for dog owners to raise their pets in a more “civilized” manner.
HONG KONG & MACAO
The Guardian has spoken to more than half a dozen Hongkongers living in the UK who say they feel ignored and unprotected by the UK government.
A Hong Kong man who was shot by police during a National Day protest in 2019 has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for rioting and assaulting a police officer.
Wearing a white shirt and with his long hair in a bun, Tsang Chi-kin, who was 18 at the time of the incident, appeared in front of Judge Ada Yim at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts for the District Court case on Wednesday. He pleaded guilty to both charges last month.
Tsang was caught up in clashes between protesters and police on October 1, 2019, when the city saw widespread demonstrations to “mourn” National Day amid protests sparked by a controversial amendment to the city’s extradition bill.
The Chinese mainland’s top economic planner and Hong Kong’s de facto central bank signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday on supporting cross-border financing by mainland enterprises and promoting the development of the Hong Kong bond market.
Hong Kong is set to allow its public universities to double the number of non-local undergraduate admissions in the forthcoming Policy Address, local media reported citing government sources on Tuesday.
Sing Tao reported that the 2023 Policy Address – scheduled to be delivered by Chief Executive John Lee next Wednesday – will see the ceiling of non-local undergraduate intake be raised from 20 per cent of publicly-funded places to 40 per cent. The new proposal aims to make the city “an international higher educational hub,” the newspaper’s source said.
Under the current admission scheme, eight public universities in Hong Kong offer a total of 15,000 first-year degree places to local students. The proposal would allow universities to admit up to 6,000 non-local undergraduates.
An appellate court has upheld two sets of rulings that favour the granting of housing benefits to same-sex couples in Hong Kong after finding the government’s policies were discriminatory and unconstitutional.
The Court of Appeal on Tuesday rejected the government’s contention that allowing gay people to apply for housing as married couples would jeopardise the positions of their opposite-sex counterparts, saying traditional marriage did not confer to the latter special rights and privileges.
In response to the government’s claims that allowing same-sex couples into the market would prolong the wait for homes, the court noted the law had never guaranteed that people could rent or buy a flat within a specified amount of time.
South Korean authorities cited the risk of Chinese economic retaliation when they charged marine technology firm SI Innotec last year with violating trade laws for its work on Taiwan's new military submarine program, according to a police document seen by Reuters and two people familiar with the matter.
In a Feb. 17, 2022 affidavit to a judge seeking the arrest of SI Innotec executive director Park Mal-sik, police said authorities feared a repeat of the sweeping sanctions imposed by Beijing in 2016, after Seoul decided to install THAAD, a U.S. anti-missile system. China agreed to lift those measures in late 2017.
The affidavit said SI Innotec's deal to supply Taiwan with submarine manufacturing equipment "directly impacts the overall security of South Korea" and police, who had consulted with the country's arms sales regulator, were "concerned about a crisis similar to a second THAAD deployment, such as economic retaliation".
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA)regulator had told an unidentified subcontractor that the government had "export concerns" regarding Taiwan, and "takes a very cautious stance" on such approvals, the affidavit said.
Spooked by China's incessant military drills and left out of key alliances, Taiwan is looking to make new friends - not just to trade with, but for support in powerful international bodies, in particular the European Union.
Proof of one new friendship is easily visible in Taipei's supermarkets, which now sell something that is quite uncommon in Asia: Lithuanian-made India Pale Ale. Imports of the brew, along with Lithuanian rum and chocolate, have soared in Taiwan in the last few years, and Taipei has even announced a $10m investment in Lithuania in the most prized Taiwanese product - chips.
Why Lithuania? Perhaps the most fertile ground for making new friends is in the young democracies of Eastern Europe, places that once fell under the control of Moscow, but are now part of Nato and the EU.
In a war with the U.S. over Taiwan, China would need to create a global network of companies under U.S. sanctions, seize American assets within its borders, and issue gold-denominated bonds, according to Chinese government-affiliated researchers studying the Western response to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
The sanctions against Moscow have prompted hundreds of Chinese economists, financiers, and geopolitical analysts to examine how China should mitigate extreme scenarios, including loss of access to U.S. dollars, according to a Reuters review of more than 200 Chinese-language policy papers and academic articles published since February 2022.
"In the context of intensified Sino-U.S. strategic competition and the Taiwan Strait conflict, we should be wary of the U.S. replicating this financial sanction model against China," wrote Chen Hongxiang, a researcher at a branch of the People's Bank of China (PBOC) in eastern Jiangsu province.
China, he said, should "prepare for a rainy day" to ensure its financial and economic stability.
Taiwan’s Foxconn says it plans to build artificial intelligence (AI) data factories with technology from American chip giant Nvidia, as the electronics maker ramps up efforts to become a major global player in electric car manufacturing.
Foxconn Chairman Young Liu and Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang jointly announced the plans on Wednesday in Taipei. The duo said the new facilities using Nvidia’s chips and software will enable Foxconn to better utilize AI in its electric vehicles (EV).
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