Zelensky's invitation to Xi, Taiwan president’s stopover in the US, and Alibaba's split
+ key takeaways from the Boao Forum and China-Brazil deal to ditch dollar for trade
Welcome back to What’s Happening in China. Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky invited Chinese leader Xi Jinping to visit Ukraine. In today’s issue, we look into that, the latest on Taiwan’s president’s US stopover on her way to Central America, and Alibaba’s plan to split into six groups. Keep reading to stay informed on these topics and so much more.
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PHOTO OF THE WEEK
For the few able to escape China’s harsher crackdowns since 2017, Turkey has been a place of refuge. As Turkic people, Uyghurs and Turks share historical, linguistic and cultural ties, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was once seen as an advocate for Uyghurs. But as Ankara has sought closer ties to China, the situation for Uyghur refugees has become more precarious.
The United States has slapped new sanctions on several Chinese companies for their alleged role in the persecution of ethnic minority Muslims in China’s far-western Xinjiang region.
The firms are implicated in human rights violations and abuses carried out in China’s campaign of “repression, mass arbitrary detention and high-technology surveillance against the Uyghur people and members of other Muslim minority groups”, the US Commerce Department said on Tuesday in a posting in the Federal Register.
Four of the companies – Luopu Haishi Dingxin Electronic Technology Co, Moyu Haishi Electronic Technology Co, Pishan Haishi Yong’an Electronic Technology Co and Urumqi Haishi Xin’an Electronic Technology Co – belong to the Chinese surveillance camera manufacturer Hikvision, according to Hangzhou-based firm’s 2021 half-year report.
COVID-19 Exposed Weaknesses in China’s Rural Healthcare – The Diplomat
Village clinics constitute the foundation of China’s rural healthcare system. During this COVID-19 outbreak, the Chinese health authorities expected these fundamental care units to play a key role in tending to the needs of mild cases, as services provided by them are crucial for minimizing the severity rate and death rate. There were thus high hopes that village clinics would take some pressure off higher-level health institutions, places for treating high-risk patients.
However, village clinics are limited in their ability to perform this “gatekeeping” role due to a series of challenges.
Chinese officials plan random and spot checks at medical facilities in the country to track incomplete and under-reported COVID-19 data, the country's health authority said, amid a wider call by global authorities for more transparency.
For months, the country has faced pressure from countries and health experts to reveal and be more forthcoming with COVID data, most notably official numbers around severe hospitalisations and deaths.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
If “separation of church and state” has been a source of longstanding political tension in the West, then the “separation of Party and state” has been a defining tension in Chinese politics. Although the state was always subjugated to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—hence the moniker “Party-state”—previous CCP leaders gave the state more autonomy in policymaking and allowed it to serve as something of a check on the potential excessive or suboptimal decisions of the political class.
That model of state autonomy, exemplified by a powerful State Council, is being eroded under President Xi Jinping. Although Xi has been telegraphing this intent for the past decade, the apotheosis of returning power from the “mandarin class” (State Council) to the political class (Party) became apparent at the just-concluded 14th National People’s Congress (NPC). In fact, there’s arguably no better time for Xi to make that explicit than after managing a clean sweep in the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) and securing a historic third term.
Personnel appointments at the NPC and the elevation of trusted confidantes to run the economy at the Politburo level clearly illustrate the neutralization of the State Council.
A year after the lockdown that made Shanghai a byword for all that was wrong with the country’s Covid approach, China’s most international city is showing the effects of a policy that left the nation disconnected from the world.
Home to most foreign company headquarters and a quarter of China’s expatriate population before 2022, Shanghai has seen an exodus since the brutal two-month lockdown that crippled the city of 25 million from late last March.
A thoughtful person performs a job that many people don’t think very much of,” says Li, the film’s director. As her lens flicks between the visible demands of Zhang’s labor and the intimate, inner world of his dreams, a subdued, bittersweet portrait emerges of a Chinese worker-poet who, far from succumbing to the logic of an involuting system, finds purpose and agency through devotion to his chosen craft.
The short film, which previously debuted on Nowness Asia, is available to watch on Vimeo. Li, who lives in Brooklyn, answered some questions about its inspiration, process, and themes.
A Chinese woman who shunned the traditional notions associated with disability after a high-profile appearance during a fashion week in 2021 is hitting back at online trolls, who she said have harassed her for over a year, once again putting the spotlight on an issue that has been widely discussed in the past months.
Niu Yu, an online influencer who lost her leg during the deadly Wenchuan earthquake, said that she has faced malicious attacks from people who mocked her disability, made fun of her appearance, and discouraged her from seeking a partner. Born in 1997, the native from the southwestern province of Sichuan shared her experiences with over 2 million followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, on Sunday, when she shared screenshots of those hateful messages.
“I will continue to fight for myself and for the girls who have received unfriendly treatment yet chosen to remain silent,” Niu said in the video. “We’re not perfect, but so what? We will still shine brightly.”
Exiled Tibetan leaders and officials in the United States have condemned China’s “cruel” policies in Tibet, accusing Beijing of separating families in the Himalayan region, banning their language, and engaging in non-consensual DNA collection.
Addressing the US Congress for the first time, Penpa Tsering, the head of the India-based organisation known as Tibet’s government in exile, said on Tuesday that Tibet was dying a “slow death” under Chinese rule.
“We often get asked why we don’t hear about Tibet any more,” said Tsering, known as the Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
He blamed that silence on China’s “Orwellian gridlock system, use of all means of artificial intelligence to surveil people, control the flow of information and lockdown of Tibet to the outside world”.
HONG KONG & MACAO
A Portuguese national, who allegedly managed social media accounts for the Hong Kong Independence Party, has been ordered to remain in custody pending trial under the Beijing-enacted national security law.
Joseph John, also known as Wong Kin-chung, was denied bail at the District Court on Tuesday, after judge Stanley Chan ruled that there were insufficient grounds for believing that the 41-year-old would not continue to commit acts endangering national security if bail was granted.
His previous attempt to seek bail at a lower court was also unsuccessful.
John stands accused of conspiring to incite others to organise, plan, commit or participate in acts, whether or not by force or threat of force, with a view to committing secession or undermining national unification.
The number of flights operated by Cathay Pacific Airways’ budget airline, HK Express, will return to pre-pandemic levels by Friday and it plans to hire around 500 staff this year, its boss has said, as it ramps up services to meet demand following the lifting of pandemic restrictions.
The low-cost carrier received the first of 16 narrow-body Airbus aircraft on Wednesday, with HK Express chairman and Cathay CEO Ronald Lam Siu-por calling it a “pivotal moment” for the group following three years of tough Covid-19 rules.
HK Express is looking to expand its network and aims to hire 180 pilots and more than 300 cabin crew by the end of this year.
Hong Kong police have arrested two local men after discovering HK$77 million (US$9.9 million) worth of heroin in a crackdown on a triad-controlled drug trafficking syndicate.
After receiving a tip-off, police began investigating the syndicate, which used an upscale flat for storing narcotics, according to the force on Thursday.
Cheung, who was affectionately known as Gor Gor — “big brother” in Cantonese — produced many hits that even non-Cantonese speaking music lovers in other parts of Asia could sing along to. Those include “Monica,” “Sleepless Nights Restless Heart” and “Chase.” He also starred in classic films including John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow,” Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together,” Stanley Kwan’s “Rouge” and Chen Kaige’s “Farewell My Concubine.”
But behind all of his success, Cheung suffered from depression. He jumped to his death from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in central Hong Kong on April 1 in 2003, sending shockwaves across the city. His death came as his hometown was battling the SARS epidemic, which ultimately killed hundreds and crippled the local economy.
Chinese officials have warned of “serious” consequences if Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, meets the US House speaker next week, after Tsai arrived in New York to crowds of supporters and protesters.
Tsai is stopping in the US twice during her 10-day visit to Taiwan’s diplomatic allies Guatemala and Belize. Her itinerary has not been disclosed and none of the events were open to the public or media.
There are expectations Tsai will meet Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles on her return journey. On Thursday China’s charge d’affaires in Washington, Xu Xueyan, told reporters any meeting between Tsai and McCarthy would have a “serious, serious, serious” impact on US-China relations.
Ten Chinese aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, normally an unofficial barrier between the mainland and the island, Taiwan’s defence ministry has said.
Nine Chinese fighter jets and one military drone crossed the median line in the 24 hours to 6am on Saturday, the ministry said in its daily report on Chinese military activities.
Taiwan sent aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems monitored them, the ministry said, using standard wording for its response.
The top Democrat in the House, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, met Thursday with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in New York, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
Taiwan president arrives in Guatemala to shore up ties – Taiwan News
Tsai praised the overseas compatriots for their hard work in Guatemala, saying it demonstrated the enthusiasm, tenacity, and hard work of the Taiwanese. She noted that their endeavors in Guatemala, including construction, manufacturing, food processing, and import and export trade, have achieved fruitful results, created employment opportunities for locals, and promoted economic growth.
She emphasized that Taiwan will not stop its internationalization. “If you contribute more in Guatemala, the connection between Taiwan and the world will deepen further,” Tsai said.
She encouraged her fellow nationals to work together so Taiwan can continue to play a key role in the global economy and be a beacon of democracy in the world.
People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are ethnically Chinese and share the same ancestor, former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said on Tuesday at the start of a historic visit to China that Taiwan's ruling party has criticised.
Ma, in office from 2008-2016, is the first former or current Taiwanese president to visit China since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a civil war with the Communists.
He is visiting amid heightened tension as Beijing uses political and military means to try and pressure democratically governed Taiwan into accepting Chinese sovereignty.
Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party has questioned why he is visiting just after China took away another Taiwanese diplomatic ally, Honduras, on Sunday, leaving the island with official diplomatic ties with only 13 countries.
Ma's party, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), has been pushing to restart cross-strait exchanges after a three-year interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the KMT's deputy chairperson, Andrew Hsia, took a delegation to China and met with several high-level CCP officials in charge of Beijing's Taiwan strategy.
"I think the idea that China remains the most important relation for the KMT is still very true," said Sana Hashmi, a postdoctoral fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation in Taiwan. "Ma is trying to form a narrative that the KMT is for peace and restoring cross-strait ties while the ruling party DPP could lead Taiwan to conflicts."
Ma's trip to China also carries a lot of political implications in Taiwan itself. Some analysts say the ex-president may be trying to "re-establish his political legacy" with his party carefully balancing political goals.
"The KMT wants to show they have meaningful relations with China but that message can't be so strong that it seems they are conceding to China," said Lev Nachman, a political scientist at the National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taiwan. "They are really trying to strike a balance here."
Honduran President Xiomara Castro will travel to China "soon," the Honduran foreign ministry said on Twitter on Wednesday, without providing a date for the trip.
The announcement came days after China established diplomatic ties with Honduras as the Central American country ended its decades-long relationship with Taiwan.
Honduras' foreign minister traveled to China last week, days after Castro tweeted that her government would seek to open relations with Beijing, which officially established ties with Honduras on Sunday.
Taiwan says US officials have visited to discuss concerns about chip subsidies – The Straits Times
The United States has sent officials to Taiwan to listen to concerns in the chip industry about the criteria for new US semiconductor subsidies, Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua said on Friday.
The criteria are worrying companies like Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Thursday, a concern shared by the world’s largest contract chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).
Conditions include sharing excess profit with the US government, and industry sources have said the application process itself could expose confidential corporate strategy.
Yang Bing-Yi, the co-founder of a famed Taiwan chain of soup dumpling restaurants, has died at the age of 96, the company announced in a statement on March 26.
Yang and his wife Lai Pen-mei started the Din Tai Fung restaurant in 1972, and grew their location in Taipei into a chain of more than 170 globally, popularizing piping-hot steamed soup dumplings in Taiwan and beyond.
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