Remembering Martyrs & Wang Yi's East Asian Diplomacy

Here are the stories and pieces from the People’s Daily’s April 5, 2021, edition that I found noteworthy. This was a smaller edition of the paper owing to the Qingming Festival holidays.

Page 1: There’s really little news today, given that China’s been marking the Qingming festival. But let’s look at the commentaries that we have. First, there’s a long piece honouring “generations of revolutionary martyrs.” This is keeping in mind the theme of the Qingming festival. 

The piece talks about incidents during the fight against the Kuomintang to Party members working for development and so on. The essential argument is about how CCP members have pushed the envelope and been at the forefront of China’s rise. It says that “revolutionary heroes, like stars that never fall, illuminate the night sky, illuminate the earth, and illuminate the way forward for national rejuvenation.”

Next, there’s a story about activities that were held or people around the country honouring martyrs.

Finally, the only news report is about passenger trips on the railways during the holidays. Xinhua English reports that April 2 saw approximately 11.8 million railway trips, setting a single-day record for this year. And that the total number of passenger trips topped 51.43 million on Saturday April 3, the first day of the three-day Tomb-sweeping Day holiday. The numbers in PD are very different; so I am a bit confused. It says, citing China State Railway Group Co., Ltd, that on April 3, there were some 14.636 million passengers; and on April 4, the expectation was of around 9.25 million passengers.

Page 3:  Only one piece worth noting, i,e,. Wang Yi’s interview after meeting five of his counterparts from East Asia. He began by speaking about vaccine diplomacy.

“China and ASEAN countries are connected by mountains and rivers, or facing each other across the sea. They are a family that breathes and share a common destiny, and they are always at the forefront of international anti-epidemic cooperation...”

“We have also noticed that ‘vaccine nationalism’ has begun to breed around the world. Rich countries, which account for 16% of the world’s population, have obtained 60% of the world’s vaccines. Some developed countries have ordered more than 2-3 times the population of their own countries. In sharp contrast, many developing countries are facing severe vaccine shortages, and many countries are finding it hard to even find a single dose. The ‘immune gap’ is becoming a regrettable and unfortunate reality.”

He then talked about China’s vaccine exports before adding “An ASEAN foreign minister who visited this time made it clear that China is not engaging in ‘vaccine diplomacy’, but showing its role as a major power.” So what are China and ASEAN going to do?

“China, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries will focus on improving the filling capacity of vaccine stocks. China and Singapore will explore the promotion of cooperation in the entire chain of production, storage and transportation, and China and the Philippines will strengthen vaccine approval cooperation,” said Wang.

Wang then talked about the 30th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue and the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. He basically said that there’s a commitment to restart economic and travel linkages. He said that China has proposed “a special foreign ministers’ meeting to summarize and sort out the experience and achievements of China-ASEAN cooperation in the past 30 years, and look forward to planning the direction and goals of long-term cooperation in the future.”

On the situation in Myanmar, he reiterated the three avoids and three supports, adding that “we encourage and agree to hold a special meeting of ASEAN leaders as soon as possible to jointly explore effective ways to ease the situation and solve problems within the ASEAN framework.”

The next question is about Wang’s view of how East Asian states view China-US relations. He says that “during this meeting with the foreign ministers of the five countries, we exchanged views on the Sino-US Anchorage Dialogue and its future direction.” He says that “everyone believes that China's development and growth is a historical necessity, conforms to the common expectations and long-term interests of all countries in the region, and cannot be stopped and should not be blocked.” But they also want China and the United States to have more dialogue and cooperation and less confrontation.

Wang then goes into combat mode saying that dialogue with the US must be on an equal basis. “China does not recognize that there is a superior country in the world,” he says. He further adds that China will not “evade” competition, but it must be “fair and just and abide by market rules.” And even if after this, there is confrontation, then so be it. “China cannot compromise because we adhere to the basic norms of international relations; China cannot retreat because there are many developing and small and medium-sized countries behind us; of course, China has the right to fight back because we must defend national sovereignty and national dignity.”

He then talks about China-South Korea ties in particular. “The Committee for the Future Development of China-South Korea Relations should be launched in the first half of the year to plan and design a blueprint for the development of bilateral relations in the next 30 years...The two sides should accelerate the second phase of the China-South Korea Free Trade Agreement negotiations, strengthen cooperation in the field of scientific and technological innovation, and accumulate and release the potential for cooperation.” 

With regard to denuclearisation and North Korea, he said that both sides “confirmed the great positive significance of the 2018 US-DPRK Leaders' Singapore Joint Statement. The Chinese side stated that the key to handling the peninsula issue lies in resolving the military pressure and threats that the DPRK has faced for many years. In view of this, the realization of the denuclearization of the peninsula and the establishment of a peace mechanism on the peninsula should go hand in hand and proceed together. China expects South Korea to play a more proactive role.