National Security & HK, China's Fukushima Proposal, Flood Preparedness, & Debt and Housing Market Risks

Before I begin, I wanted to share my piece in today’s Hindustan Times, discussing Wang Yi’s recent visit to West Asia. I outline what I think are likely to be the key aspects of Beijing’s engagement in the region and where it might actually make common cause with Washington.

Anyway, let’s get on with the newsletter. Here are the stories and pieces from the April 16, 2021, edition of the People’s Daily that I found noteworthy.

Page 1: First up, a story about Quishi today publishing the speech that Xi gave at the 95th anniversary of the Party in 2016. Next, a one line report about the leaders of China, France and Germany meeting via video conference to talk about climate change. It specifies that this was at the request of Emmanuel Macron. 

Third, a report on Li Keqiang’s instructions regarding flood prevention and drought relief. Li said that these tasks are “closely related to the overall situation of economic and social development.” He wants better monitoring, preparedness, and work to ensure that supply of essential and relief materials are maintained. The piece also contains comments by State Councilor Wang Yong, who heads the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters. Wang spoke about the need to be prepared to deal with flooding. He wants departments to strengthen leadership, organisation and oversight. Last year, of course, saw flooding across large parts of southern and eastern China.

Next, a report with Vice Premier Han Zheng speaking about taxation and fiscal policies. Xinhua English reports that he spoke about:

  • “resolutely curbing the increase in implicit local government debts and prudently reducing the existing debts.”

  • regulation of the housing market to create rental opportunities in big cities

  • “the real estate sector should not serve as a short-term stimulus to the economy.”

  • defusing the risks of local small and medium-sized financial institutions 

  • ensuring the payment of old-age pensions on time and in full

Finally, a report summarising the activities of the Central Propaganda Group (中央宣讲团) for Party History Study and Education. This group was formed by the Central Committee, drawing on resources from the Central Propaganda Department and other relevant central departments. The activities listed begin from mid-March; there’s a bunch of events in different provinces involving the central and provincial level leaders and events at local Party schools, companies, communities and so on. This is a bit like a report card, but also useful if you are a researcher covering the campaign. 

Page 3: A few pieces to note on the page. First, Wang Yi spoke to Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha Gonzalez Laya. Here’s what Wang reportedly said:

  • He hoped that Spain will provide a level playing field and an open business environment for Chinese companies, and called on the two sides to oppose unilateralism and protectionism.

  • He wants better coordination with Spain at the UN, G20 and WTO; and support for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

  • He said that China and Europe are partners, not rivals, and China's development is an opportunity and not a threat to Europe.

Interesting that the Chinese language report did not mention Wang’s remarks about Xinjiang and Hong Kong, but the CGTN English report does. So here’s what he said: Xinjiang and Hong Kong are China's internal affairs...China strongly urges the European side to act with prudence and refrain from interfering in China's internal affairs in any form, because doing so will only undermine mutual trust between China and the EU, and is not in the overall interests of the EU and its member states.

PD says that “Gonzalez said Spain disapproves of ‘megaphone diplomacy’ and is ready to hold constructive exchanges of views with China on the basis of mutual respect.”

Next, a report (English version) about Zhang Jun, China’s UN representative, delivering a speech, which talked about the need to eliminate the use of sexual violence as a means of war. 

Page 10: The entire page today is dedicated to coverage of the National Security Education Day. So we have a report on a few activities at universities and other places. 

A report on the Ministry of Public Security’s press conference, which informed that the total number of criminal cases and public security-related cases have fallen over the past five years. It also talks about an NBS survey which found that the public’s sense of security was 98.4% in 2020; while the sense of social security satisfaction was 83.6%. 

The piece briefly mentions “cults” like Falun Gong and Almighty God, saying that anti-terrorism work has been strong, with no violent incidents in more than four years. The next few paragraphs talk about cyber-security and financial and environmental crimes. What we learn is that from 2014 to 2020, public security agencies across the country 

  • have uncovered 405,000 online crimes and arrested 590,000 criminal suspects.

  • have cracked a total of 681,000 economic crime cases, recovering more than 400 billion yuan in economic losses.

  • have detected 199,000 environmental damage crimes, more than 90,000 food crimes, 57,000 drug crimes, and 32,000 crimes involving wildlife.

Next a report about activities around the mainland and Macau (an exhibition and an essay competition) with regard to the national security day. 

Finally, Hong Kong’s National Security Committee organised its first-ever event for the day. PD’s story carries comments from Carrie Lam, Luo Huining, chief of the HK Liaison Office, and Zheng Yanxiong, chief of the National Security Office. Lam said that HK is an “inseparable part of” China and that maintaining national security was everyone’s responsibility. She praised the new legislation, saying that it had allowed HK to emerge from “black storms.” 

And then this: “She emphasized that national security and regime security are inseparable. To truly achieve national security, the power of governance must be firmly in the hands of patriots.”

Luo said “national security is the country's top priority and the central government will unswervingly shoulder the fundamental responsibility of maintaining national security.” He lashed out at “foreign and external forces...interfering in HK” and using it as a “pawn.” He termed the national security law and the changes to the electoral system as sharp swords and strong shields for maintaining social stability and safeguarding Hong Kong's future.”

Here’s PD’s coverage of other activities held in HK. It talks about the security services hosting an open day, a quiz competition and a poster competition, exhibitions and activities in schools. But here’s how the international media reported on Hong Kong marking national security education day. Bloomberg reports:

“Schools across the city were mandated to hold events including singing the Chinese national anthem and raising flags. In addition, giant billboards promoting the event have been plastered across the city, while the police held an open day where they displayed professional drills, anti-terrorism exercises and displayed armored vehicles.” The report further quotes Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Choy says: “They think that one of the major sources of instability is from the students, the young people, so they will put more efforts on this aspect. They have put more patriotic education in, and they have tried to punish or discipline teachers in secondary schools.”

The report adds: “Hong Kong told schools in February to start using a more patriotic curriculum and advised teachers to report breaches of the national security law. Children starting from around kindergarten age will be taught to memorize offenses under the law, including subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers.” This picture by Bloomberg says a lot.

SCMP reports that “Hong Kong kindergartners as young as three years old were among those learning about the national security law on Thursday…“There is nothing wrong with the notion that students should learn about national interests. I doubt, however, whether children who cannot tie their own shoelaces can really understand it in a meaningful way.”Many kindergartens and schools have also distributed pamphlets and paper bookmarks displaying 16 types of national security, including biosecurity, nuclear security, homeland security and security issues tied to technology, space and the polar regions.”

Here’s a quote in the story from a parent: “There is nothing wrong with the notion that students should learn about national interests. I doubt, however, whether children who cannot tie their own shoelaces can really understand it in a meaningful way.”

Anyway, also noteworthy is this. HK’s Education Bureau revealed on Thursday it would also be distributing to educators copies of a 200-page book on the security law – hand-picked by China’s education minister Chen Baosheng, and compiled by mainland legal scholars including former liaison office legal affairs director Wang Zhenmin – to “support teachers [so they] correctly understand and implement national security education”.

Another SCMP report covers some of the activities: “At the Hong Kong Police College parade ground in Wong Chuk Hang, members of the public watched for the first time as officers switched from their traditional British-style drills to goose-stepping marches learned from People’s Liberation Army trainers. The Special Duties Unit, the Counter Terrorism Response Unit and the Emergency Unit displayed their anti-terrorism skills and equipment, while water cannon trucks and armoured vehicles used during the 2019 social unrest were put on display. Booths were set up to sell souvenirs and key rings with police anti-riot warnings such as “disperse or we fire”, and “warning, tear smoke”.

Page 16: We have two interesting reports. The first is criticism of the Japanese government’s decision on discharging the Fukushima wastewater. The report draws on Japanese media coverage, pushback by Japanese politicians, criticism by environmental groups and Russia and South Korea. To be fair, the piece also cites IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi supporting the Japanese government’s decision. But it does this without really quoting the key point that Grossi makes, i.e., that Tokyo’s decision “is in line with practice globally.” You can read Grossi’s comments here. According to PD, Grossi said that Japan’s nuclear waste water discharged into the Pacific should not cause environmental damage, but he takes concerns by China and South Korea “seriously” and wants more “transparency.”

The report also adds that China's foreign ministry summoned Japan’s ambassador to Beijing, Hideo Tarumi. Assistant Minister Wu Jianghao told Tarumi that the “relevant Japanese decision to disregard the global marine environment, international public health and safety and the vital safety and interests of the people of neighboring countries, is suspected of violating international laws and international rules, and is not the work of a modern civilized country. China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to this.”

Beijing has put forward the following proposal:

  • Tokyo should to re-examine its decision on wastewater disposal;

  • It should set up a working group including Chinese experts under the framework of international institutions; and

  • It should not start the discharge of nuclear waste water without authorisation before reaching a consensus.

The other story is about a report published by the Australian Citizens Party on Xinjiang. This is really old news; CGTN had picked this up days ago. The report basically talks about how the West has undermined security in Eurasia, particularly Xinjiang, and how everything today about forced labour, detention camps, genocide, etc., is fake news. Basically, the idea is that this is all the US’ conspiracy to undermine China. The report also talks about the US government supporting terror groups like al-Qaeda, ISIL and affiliates.