Xi's major party revamp, Russia visit, and China's visa resumption
+ UK's TikTok ban
Welcome back to What’s Happening in China. Finally, after more than 3 years, the PRC is reopening its borders to foreign tourists. Although expectations are low, hopefully, as temperatures rise, there will be an uptick in visitors. The world could surely benefit from some renewed engagement with the country. In this issue, we look at Xi’s upcoming trip to Russia on March 20-22, the “biggest revamp in the ruling Communist Party in years,” the UK's TikTok ban, and so much more. Keep reading to stay informed.
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PHOTO OF THE WEEK
We were very careful, very careful. Even at home, we were raised with warnings from our parents: “Don’t say these kinds of things in school, don’t say those kinds of things when you’re playing with Han Chinese kids.”
Hearing that all the time reminded us we were different. And we were constantly facing discrimination in school, and society, and the workplace. We all knew it was because we were Uyghurs that we were facing that kind of pressure. So it was actually training you to be smarter in choosing your words, in communicating with people, in choosing what kind of people you should communicate with.
In December 2021, President Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) to strengthen laws banning forced-labor products from entering the United States. Since then, the U.S. has enjoyed moderate success in seizing banned goods. And Congress has increased appropriations to help U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) fully implement the law.
This was a helpful start. But plenty of goods manufactured through China’s slave labor are still entering the United States. In part, that’s due to an obscure section of U.S. customs law – the “de minimis” threshold for consumer imports – that allows contraband Uyghur products to be shipped directly to U.S. buyers.
China will reopen its borders to foreign tourists for the first time in the three years since the Covid pandemic erupted by allowing all categories of visas to be issued.
The removal of this last cross-border control measure on Wednesday comes after authorities declared victory over the virus last month.
Tourist industry insiders do not expect a large influx of visitors in the near future or significant boost to the economy. In 2019, international tourism receipts accounted for just 0.9% of China’s gross domestic product.
But the resumption of visa issuance for tourists marks a broader push by Beijing to normalise two-way travel between China and the world, having withdrawn its advisory to citizens against foreign travel in January.
Q: What do you think of what [Débarre and her collaborators] found?
A: It confirms what has been suspected: There were animals at the market that were susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, that the market of course played a really important role, certainly in the amplification of viral spread in the early days of the pandemic. The questions that remain are questions that have yet to be answered. Where did these animals come from? What additional sampling of animals and of environments in markets across Wuhan were done in December 2019 and in January, February, and March 2020? What were the trade routes of these animals? What mixing occurred with other species? Was there any serology done, either in animals or in people that worked at these markets? None of that information is available. This provides more evidence of intermediate hosts, but it doesn’t answer everything, and it doesn’t take away other hypotheses yet.
The British government said it would end the requirement for people flying from mainland China to England to provide proof of a negative pre-departure Covid-19 test from April 5.
From Friday, the UK Health Security Agency’s voluntary, on-arrival testing programme of travellers arriving from China to London’s Heathrow airport will also end, the government said.
“The removal of these measures comes as China has increased information sharing regarding testing, vaccination and genomic sequencing results, providing greater transparency on their domestic disease levels,” the health department said in a statement.
Ruili faced some of China’s strictest virus-control measures during the height of the pandemic. Now, local people are gradually picking up the pieces.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
Chinese President Xi Jinping tightened his grip over the government and economy with the biggest revamp in the ruling Communist Party in years, setting up powerful committees to oversee everything from financial markets to social stability.
The reorganization of the party includes the creation of two separate financial bodies — one to take control of a financial stability committee previously under the State Council.
A committee will also be set up with oversight over the science and technology ministry, and a new central social work department will be created to extend the party’s reach into businesses and grassroots organizations. An office to manage Hong Kong and Macau affairs will also now report to the party instead of the State Council, China’s cabinet.
The revamp underscores Xi’s drive over his decade in power to elevate the status of the ruling party and ensure it’s represented in all walks of life, from company boardrooms to university lecture halls. It comes at a delicate time for Beijing, with the economy only just recovering from last year’s Covid slump, financial risks mounting and tensions with the US, especially over technology, escalating.
“The changes concentrate power in the hands of Xi as the party leader,” said Chen Gang, an assistant director and senior research fellow at National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council have released a plan on reforming Party and state institutions, and issued a circular demanding the faithful implementation of the plan.
In today's piece, Ginger River Review (GRR) presents you with a near-full translation of the plan, along with highlights of the official notes by State Councilor Xiao Jie on the state institutions reform, which is also included in a GRR's previous post on the state institutions reform.
Pragmatism as ideology – The Tangled Woof
Today, asking whether individual officials have a “pragmatic approach” is the wrong question. The system in which Chinese officials have been operating encouraged pragmatism, and some officials have been more successful than others in navigating that system. But Xi Jinping has been quite clear that he wants to change that system. As he has repeatedly stated, developing the economy is no longer the Communist Party’s top priority–in part because of the economic success already achieved, in part because the current challenges are different.
China is planning to raise its retirement age gradually and in phases to cope with the country's rapidly aging population, the state-backed Global Times said on Tuesday, citing a senior expert from China's Ministry of Human Resources.
Jin Weigang, president of the Chinese Academy of Labor and Social Security Sciences, said China was eyeing a "progressive, flexible and differentiated path to raising the retirement age", meaning that it would be delayed initially by a few months, which would be subsequently increased.
"People nearing retirement age will only have to delay retirement for several months," the Global Times said, citing Jin. Young people may have to work a few years longer but will have a long adaptation and transition period, he said.
China Mulls Allowing Single Women to Freeze Eggs – Sixth Tone
Chinese health officials are starting discussions about whether to legalize the freezing of eggs for single women, giving hope to many who have been demanding the practice to be recognized for years.
The country’s top health authority, the National Health Commission, is asking for experts’ opinions on liberalizing the egg freezing policy for single women, which may or may not lead to an actual policy change, financial outlet Caixin reported Monday. According to the experts invited to the discussion, the country is considering having egg banks similar to sperm banks that legally operate in China.
Popular slime toys for children in China were found to contain excessive amounts of a toxic chemical, drawing renewed public attention to the safety of children’s products in the country.
Only 10 out of 30 crystal mud slime bestsellers sold on major Chinese e-commerce platforms met the European Union’s standards for borax contained in toys, according to a new report. The level of borax, a crystalline substance commonly used in detergents, cosmetics, and ceramic products, was seven times higher than EU standards.
The report was released by Toxics-Free Corps, a Shenzhen-based nonprofit that focuses on chemical safety and public health issues, to coincide with World Consumer Rights Day on Wednesday.
For decades, English has been a compulsory subject in all Chinese schools from primary school through high school — the only class to receive this status apart from Chinese and math.
But that could be about to change. At this year’s “two sessions” — an annual meeting of China’s top legislative and advisory bodies, which concluded Monday — several representatives proposed scaling back English teaching.
Chen Weizhi, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body, suggested reducing the role of English in schools in several ways, as the subject is poorly taught and given an excessive emphasis in the curriculum.
China's Plan to Assimilate Tibet – Newsweek
"Tibetans live in Tibet; they're not Chinese. But somehow speaking Chinese, being Chinese and being loyal to the Communist Party in Beijing is more important than our ancient culture, traditions and rights," she said. "It doesn't matter if the schools are gleaming new and the children wear Tibetan chubas, have one Tibetan class a day and are fed Tibetan food, if the intent of the program is to remove the Tibetan out of the child."
Before Xi's arrival, there was some religious and cultural tolerance, but that's "all out the window now." What remains is "window dressing," Tethong said. "This whole thing, taken together, is genocide. It's a genocidal policy. There's no benevolent intention here."
HONG KONG & MACAO
With the change, the high-level body formed on the basis of the HKMAO will answer to the party’s Central Committee instead of the State Council, according to the latest “Party and State Institutional Reform Plan’’ report published on Thursday evening.
Setting out the enhanced scope of the new body, the report said it would “commit to the duties of investigating, researching, coordinating and supervising the implementation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, the comprehensive jurisdiction of the central government, and governance of Hong Kong and Macau in accordance with the law”.
It would also “safeguard national security, guarantee people’s livelihoods and well-being, as well as support Hong Kong and Macau to integrate into the national development plan”.
The new overarching body will be called the “Hong Kong and Macau Work Office of the Communist Party Central Committee”, while the original HKMAO name will still be retained.
The reshuffle is considered an elevation of the office’s status since most decision-making power rests in the hands of party organs, with Xi Jinping sitting at the heart of the committee as its general secretary. Xi was recently endorsed as president for an unprecedented third term.
Two men have been arrested in Hong Kong for the possession of picture books which authorities say are "seditious".
They are believed to be the first arrested for merely owning the books - after the publishers were jailed last year.
Authorities interpreted the books - about sheep trying to hold back wolves from their village - as referring to Hong Kongers and China's government.
Forty of the 100 U.S. senators co-sponsored a resolution on Wednesday urging a strong U.S. government response to any Chinese efforts to clamp down on dissent in Hong Kong, including the use of sanctions and other tools.
The measure backed by the 40 Democrats and Republicans, and seen by Reuters before its release, comes as members of the U.S. Congress urge President Joe Biden's administration to take a harder line in dealings with a rising China over a wide range of issues.
The French artist JR has created a monumental outdoor installation for Hong Kong to celebrate the city’s art month this month. But the installation, which depicts a high jumper, has drawn criticisms from several feng shui consultants and fortune tellers, who argued that the work looks like a person who fell off from a building from afar, and hence projecting a bad omen.
Economic necessity and Taiwan’s refusal to increase financial aid were behind Honduras’s decision to establish diplomatic ties with China, Foreign Minister Eduardo Reina said on Wednesday.
President Xiomara Castro announced on Tuesday that she had instructed Reina to “undertake the official opening of relations” with China, a move that would sever the Central American country’s longstanding diplomatic relationship with Taiwan.
Even as tourism and educational exchange begin to reopen between China and other countries around the world, exchanges with its neighbour roughly 160km (100 miles) away across the strait are in sharp decline. Many lusheng feel like the collateral damage of worsening Beijing-Taipei ties, given the brush-off by politicians on both sides of the strait.
“This new situation is very much like the situation we had during the cold war when there was no people-to-people exchange,” said Tso Chen-dong, a professor of political science at NTU and a former director of the Kuomintang’s Mainland Affairs Department.
Taiwan will host its first visit by a German federal minister in 26 years next week, a trip that has highlighted divisions in Berlin over the handling of its relationship with China as geopolitical tensions between Beijing and the west rise.
Bettina Stark-Watzinger, federal minister of education and research, is scheduled to arrive in Taipei on Tuesday for a two-day trip, according to three people briefed on the plans. Her trip comes as Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock is planning to visit Beijing in April or May, one of the people and one other person familiar with the situation said.
Two lawmakers with knowledge of the exports and two former officials said the approvals reflected Britain’s increased willingness to support Taiwan. One of the lawmakers, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said authorising the export licences amounted to giving a "green light" to better equip Taiwan.
The data is from the Export Control Organisation, which is responsible for export licensing and sits within the UK Department for International Trade. It shows the government authorised 25 export licences to Taiwan during the first nine months of 2022 under the categories "components for submarines" and "technology for submarines."
China has in recent years ramped up diplomatic and military pressure against Taiwan, which Beijing views as its territory, raising concerns about the fate of the chip fabs that dot Taiwan's western coast and produce the majority of the world's most advanced chips if China blockades or attacks the island.
U.S. "onshoring" and "friendshoring" efforts to boost chip manufacturing stateside or in allied countries present a predicament for Taiwan.
"Friendshore does not include Taiwan. In fact, the commerce secretary has said repeatedly that Taiwan is a very dangerous place, we cannot - America cannot - rely on Taiwan for chips," Chang said. "Now that, of course, is I think Taiwan's dilemma."
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Coming up next:
Xi's upcoming visit to Russia
The Aukus deal
China's new security architecture for the Middle East
TikTok’s ongoing challenges
The latest updates in the music industry
And so much more…