Trade Data - China-CEEC Expo - Anti-Sanctions Law - ILD Chief on Foreign Work

Here are the stories and pieces from the People’s Daily’s June 9, 2021 edition that I found noteworthy.

Page 1: Let’s begin with a report (Xinhua English report) about Xi’s letter to the second China-Central and Eastern European Countries Expo. The story basically reiterates Xi’s February pledge of importing goods worth over $170 billion from CEEC countries in the coming five years; and the pledge to doubling the import of agricultural products from the CEEC in the next five years, and continue to promote the construction of China-CEEC economic and trade cooperation demonstration zones in Ningbo and other places. Xi, of course, is on an investigation trip in Qinghai. This visit has so far not been covered in PD.

Next, a short report (English report) on Xi’s exchange with the new Israeli president Isaac Herzog. Third, another brief report (English version) about Li Keqiang’s talks with Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov. Li said that China “will join hands with Uzbekistan to fight COVID-19, provide Uzbekistan with aid within China's capacity, support companies from the two countries to carry out joint vaccine production based on the principle of mutual benefit and win-win results. The Chinese premier expressed the hope that the two sides can deepen cooperation in all fields in line with market principles and business rules to better benefit the people of both countries. China is willing to facilitate the customs clearance of agricultural specialties from Uzbekistan.” Interestingly, he also spoke about livelihood cooperation under the SCO framework, which tells us something about the evolution of the SCO from a security issues-focussed institution.

Fourth, a brief report about NPCSC discussions on proposed laws and amendments. The noteworthy bit here is about the foreign sanctions law. Lawmakers want this to strengthen the “legal toolbox of anti-sanctions and anti-interference” measures in order to counter “long-arm jurisdiction” challenges, by providing “a strong legal guarantee for China to counter foreign discriminatory measures according to law."

Fifth, Zhao Leji’s inspection tour of Shandong, where he spoke about cracking down on corruption. He visited the Dongying Shengli Petroleum Engineering Company and the China Heavy Duty Truck Group Co. Interesting here is his remark about organisations needing to have “supervision of the masses” if corruption issues become repetitive and intractable. 

Finally, some data on China’s foreign trade for January to May. According to the latest statistics released by the General Administration of Customs, in the first five months of this year, China's total import and export value was 14.76 trillion yuan, up 28.2% year-on-year and 21.6% over the same period of 2019. Exports were 8.04 trillion yuan; imports were 6.72 trillion yuan. 

In the first five months, the import and export of private enterprises in China was 7.02 trillion yuan, up 38.1% year-on-year, accounting for 47.6% of China's total foreign trade value, up 3.4 percentage points over the same period last year. In the same period, the import and export of foreign-invested enterprises was 5.44 trillion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 20%; the import and export of state-owned enterprises was 2.23 trillion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 20.7%

Among the biggest trading partners for China are:

  • ASEAN: 2.19 trillion yuan

  • EU: 2.06 trillion yuan

  • US: 1.82 trillion yuan

  • Japan: 969.79 billion yuan

  • Trade with BRI countries: 4.36 trillion yuan, with exports at 2.46 trillion.

GAC data also show that India-China trade so far this year is at $48 billion (around 307 billion yuan). As this HT report notes, there’s been a significant spike in trade in the April-May period. This makes sense, given there’s been large quantities of pandemic-related supplies that have come from China during this period amid the second wave in India. So don’t see this boost in trade as something structural.

Page 2: First, we have a report of a human rights seminar organised by the China Society for Human Rights Research and an Italian magazine. The theme was COVID-19 and Protection of the Right to Life and Health. PD says that “representatives from international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as politicians, experts and scholars in the field of human rights from nearly 20 European countries” participated in the seminar. Do read through the comments of the participants; they offer a glimpse into China’s efforts to direct discourse on human rights away from political participation and freedoms towards developmental priorities.

Second, Li Zhanshu’s meeting (English version) with Natalia Kochanova, chairwoman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, and Vladimir Andreichenko, chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus. Li said China and Belarus, as "good friends, good partners, and good brothers," should continue to support each other’s core interests and major concerns. He spoke about pandemic-related cooperation, opposing “unilateralism, bullying, interference, sanctions and containment,” and the need to “approve and revise legal documents conducive to the development of bilateral ties to provide legal guarantee for the joint construction of the Belt and Road.” 

I wonder if this is the first time that a senior Chinese leader has used the word containment in public in the context of US policy? I haven’t seen any other reference so far.

Third, Wei Fenghe spoke to Singapore's Minister for Defense Ng Eng Hen. Wei said that the two sides should maintain high-level communication, advance pragmatic cooperation, and strengthen multilateral coordination to make greater contributions to the development of bilateral relations. They also talked about international and regional issues, the report says. This call comes after Wei spoke to Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and Malaysian counterpart Ismail Sabri Yaakob last week. The Strait Times reports that they also “discussed practical ways to strengthen Asean-China defence cooperation and the Asean Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-Plus framework.”

Fourth, the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) countries’ foreign ministers’ meeting in Chongqing ended with a couple of joint declarations. PD says that Wang Yi recommended deeper pandemic-related cooperation, jointly promoting post-epidemic recovery, expanding water resources cooperation, advancing local pragmatic cooperation, promoting people-to-people friendship, and improving cooperation mechanisms. 

This is so Middle Kingdom: “The foreign ministers of the participating countries thanked China for its attention and investment in Lancang-Mekong cooperation, especially the sincere assistance provided to Lancang-Mekong countries in fighting the epidemic and economic recovery, and expected China to continue to play a key role in the cooperation process.”

Anyway, the joint statements are available in English:

  1. Full text: Joint Statement on Deepening Cooperation on Traditional Medicine Within the Framework of Lancang-Mekong Cooperation

  2. Full text: Initiative on Deepening Cooperation among Local Governments of Lancang-Mekong Countries

  3. Full text: Joint Statement on Enhancing Sustainable Development Cooperation of the Lancang-Mekong Countries

Page 7: The International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, People’s Daily and Peking University together held a seminar celebrating 100 years of the Party’s “foreign work.” 

ILD chief Song Tao said that “the party’s external work must accurately understand General Secretary Xi Jinping’s strategic assessment that ‘time and momentum are on our side,’ and must grasp the laws of historical development and the general trend.”  He wants officials to understand the historical position, the external environment China faces, and the mission and tasks it shoulders.

"We should firmly grasp that the Party's foreign work is an important front of the Party, an important part of the country's overall diplomacy, and an important embodiment of the 'triple positioning' of great power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, and be mindful of the 国之大者 (matters of great significance to the state).” 

A key objective of foreign work for him is that cadres must “strive to maintain an important strategic opportunity period for China's development.” 

He added: “Based on the new starting point of the Party’s 100-year history, it is very necessary to systematically summarize the theory and practice of the Party’s foreign work, better grasp the deep laws of interaction, exchange and fellowship among the world’s political parties, better demonstrate the image of the Party and the country through the Party’s foreign work, enhance strategic mutual trust and friendship among countries, optimize the external environment, promote the building of a community of human destiny and join hands to build a better world.” 立足党的百年历史新起点,系统总结党的对外工作理论与实践,更好把握世界政党交往、交流、交心的深层规律,通过党的对外工作更好展示党和国家形象、增进国家间战略互信与友谊、优化外部环境,推动构建人类命运共同体,携手建设更加美好的世界,非常必要,也极为重要.

Page 13: The lead piece on the Theory page today is about Xi’s thought on ecological civilisation. Not interested enough in this to do a breakdown. But you can read it here.

‘Extreme Nationalism’

What I am interested in, however, are reports that have emerged with regard to ultra-nationalist sentiment among sections of Chinese society. This began amid reports that the Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute had refused to renew American journalist Peter Hessler’s teaching contract. Hessler has been teaching in Chengdu since 2019. Last year, he wrote a lengthy article in The New Yorker about China’s containment of COVID-19. It was a really good piece, which was used by Party-state media as part of its narrative campaign. So this is not the case of someone who has conventionally been seen as a strident critic. Check out this thread for a sense of the media conversation/debate around the report of Hessler’s departure and criticism targeted at him.

Now with this in mind, do also check out this report by SCMP about attacks on Chinese intellectuals for scholarly links and visits to Japan over the years. It says that:

“Nearly 200 Chinese intellectuals who took part in a Japanese government-affiliated exchange programme have been branded “traitors” on Chinese social media, reflecting rising nationalistic sentiment in China. They were sponsored to visit Japan by the Japan Foundation, which is overseen by the Japanese foreign ministry and funded by government subsidies, investment revenue and private sector donations. The programme was started in 2008 to improve exchanges between the two countries, with 196 Chinese intellectuals having been sponsored as of 2019, the ministry said. But participants have been criticised by some people online, after the visits recently came to their attention. He Bing, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, writers Jiang Fangzhou and Xiong Peiyun, and journalist Duan Hongqing were among those targeted. Jiang Fangzhou, who spent three months in Japan under the programme, has been called a traitor on social media. Jiang was accused of promoting Japanese propaganda through her 2017 book, One Year in Tokyo.”

Here’s a Global Times reporter alarmed by the state of affairs.

Of course, there’s little to say about the tabloid’s efforts in spinning a nationalistic narrative. Also, this is not the first time in the recent past that reporters at the Global Times and other Chinese reporters have expressed unease with such nationalism. The controversy around the China Chang’an Web Weibo post with regard to the second wave in India is one example.

For another, read this excerpt from Prof. Hemant Adlakha’s paper on the Fang Fang phenomenon last year:

“Interestingly, Hu has been facing criticisms from both sides of the debate for his flip-flops on the issue. In his first few blog posts and a long write-up in the English language GT, Hu Xijin chose to play soft on Fang Fang. Doing so unexpectedly put him in the firing line of Fang Fang bashers. Angry columnists targeted him with articles, such as ‘Mr. Hu Xijin: Are you behind Fang Fang’s overseas publications?’ ‘Hu Xijin goes soft on Fang Fang: A comedy of errors!’ and ‘Hu Xijin errs, should go back to relearn Marxism, Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.’ Unable to bear the heat, Hu quickly changed tracks. He immediately hardened his tone and wrote: ‘The diary will not be a normal exchange of documentary literature. It will be captured by international politics. It is quite possible that in the coming storm, the Chinese people, including those who have supported Fang Fang, will pay for her fame in the West. Of course, China is a powerful country and will not be affected because of the diary’s publication. It is hoped that Fang Fang will be more philosophical in the face of changing public attitudes, including criticism and questioning.’ Fang Fang responded in kind. She wrote on her Sina Weibo blog: ‘Your comments are ‘vulgar’ and ‘disappointing’. No genuine writer will accept such condescending tolerance.’ Fang Fang further dared him and wrote: ‘Who do you think you are?’”