Xi's Space Chat - BRI Vaccine Initiative - SCO Meeting - Human Rights Contestation - More of Ren Lixuan on Popular Legitimacy - Recapping Major Power Diplomacy Under Xi

Here are the stories and pieces from the People’s Daily’s June 24, 2021, edition that I found noteworthy.

Page 1: Xi Jinping dominates the front page today. First, Xi visited the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, from where he spoke to the three astronauts stationed in China’s space station core module Tianhe. The PD report (Xinhua English version) has reproduced the conversation that they had. Xi asks them about their well-being, and offers them encouragement. The astronauts salute him and talk about their experience and mission. Apart from this, take a look at these comments from Xi:

“The construction of the space station is a milestone in China's space industry, which will make pioneering contributions to the peaceful use of space by humanity…You are the representatives of those who are striving and climbing in China’s space industry in the new era. I hope you will work closely with each other and complete the upcoming tasks.”

Just to underscore that this is the big story on the page, we also have a PD commentary that takes off from this interaction. The author tells us that:

“Words of concern, earnest expectations and solemn instructions fully reflect General Secretary Xi Jinping’s concern for the aerospace industry and fully demonstrate that the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core attaches great importance to the development of the aerospace industry.” 

It adds that the construction of a space station and the establishment of a national space laboratory are important goals for the realization of a ‘three-step’ strategy for China’s manned space mission, and an important leading project for building China into a powerhouse in terms of science and technology and aerospace. Of course, what’s been achieved so far has “fully demonstrated the great Chinese path, Chinese spirit, and Chinese strength, and has strengthened our determination and confidence in winning a new victory in the comprehensive construction of a modern socialist country.”

It’s worth noting that in this short commentary, we had three mentions of Xi Jinping being the core. Anyway, the rest of the piece basically talks about doing more and doing better in terms of the space mission and aerospace industry and importantly becoming self-reliant and pursuing “independent innovation.” 

Second - and this wasn’t anything new really - we have Xi’s comments (English report) at the Asia and Pacific High-level Conference on Belt and Road Cooperation. This was a written message by Xi to the forum. He said that “140 countries have signed cooperation agreements with China under the BRI, with more and more cooperative partners.” He added:

“All parties have actively promoted policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure and facilities, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bonds, launched many practical cooperation projects that benefit the people, established a comprehensive and compound connectivity partnership, and created a new prospect for common development.” I think this is useful for journalists and analysts to keep in mind too, particularly considering the reports we see on and off about BRI failing or being finished because some infrastructure projects have run into controversy. BRI is much more than infrastructure, and pushback or renegotiation of a few projects doesn’t end the initiative’s salience practically or politically within China.

Anyway, Xi further basically talked about cooperation during the pandemic. He then said that “China has entered a new development stage, acted on a new development concept, and has been fostering a new development paradigm, which provides more opportunities in the market, investment and growth for Belt and Road partners.” 

The final Xi Jinping related report (English report) on the page is him sending a message of condolence to Zambian President Edgar Lungu over the passing of former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda.

Next, there’s a longish report marking the third anniversary of the Central Foreign Affairs Work Conference. Just a quick recap, this meeting had established the “guiding position of Xi Jinping’s diplomatic thought, and provided fundamental follow-up and action guidelines for major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics entering the new era.” The piece is divided into different sections, which essentially discuss China’s diplomacy under Xi Jinping. 

The first section talks about “the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind.” Again a quick recap: we first had Xi talk about this concept in Russia in 2013; he reiterated it at a UNGA speech in 2015; then again in 2017, he spoke about this at the UN discussing the  “ideological connotation and goal path of building a community”; and then in 2021 at the WEF in Davos. The piece then also mentions China’s engagement with regional groupings. It’s interesting that the inclusion of the concept in UN documents and international discussions is highlighted as a matter of pride and accomplishment. It says “the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind has been written into the documents of the United Nations and other important international and regional organizations…” This offers a sense of what Chinese diplomats and their bosses also value as achievements. I recall there being reports about jostling at the UN about including BRI in certain documents. For instance, see this 2018 piece by Seema Sirohi.

From here we come to China’s pandemic diplomacy:

“With the people at heart and the world in mind, President Xi Jinping led the largest global humanitarian operation in the history of new China, contributing Chinese wisdom and strength to the global fight against the epidemic and practicing the concept of community of human destiny with practical actions.” 习近平主席心系人民,胸怀世界,领导开展新中国历史上规模最大的全球人道主义行动,为全球抗疫贡献中国智慧和力量,用实际行动践行人类命运共同体理念. 

The next section is about China fulfilling “the responsibility of a major country” by participating in global governance reform. The article quotes Xi about China shouldering greater responsibility. It then talks about the world struggling with “governance deficit, trust deficit, peace deficit and development deficit.”

The piece says that “China’s answer to this is to promote the construction of a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation. China firmly safeguards the international system with the United Nations at its core and the international order based on international law. The destiny of the world should be controlled by all countries, international rules should be written by all countries, global affairs should be governed by all countries, and development results should be shared by all countries.”

It adds that China’s diplomatic ties with 180 countries and partnerships with international organisations, sharing of views on international order and globalization and ideas on “concepts such as governance, security, development, human rights, ecology, and civilisational exchanges” represent the effort to create this “new type of international relations.” This is simply painting Chinese diplomacy in broad strokes, without offering any details. Now that I think of it, this article has really offered no particular insight. But, I guess it is useful to note what’s being highlighted.

Anyway, the final section talks about BRI - refer to my earlier comment about BRI, please. Here’s how the piece ends:

“China today is not only China’s China, but also Asia’s China and the world’s China. The China of the future will certainly embrace the world with a more open attitude and contribute to the world with more dynamic civilizational achievements. No matter how the international situation changes, China will unswervingly take Xi Jinping’s diplomatic thought as its guide, promote great power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, firmly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, and at the same time, together with other countries, adhere to the common values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom for all mankind, promote the building of a new type of international relations and a community of human destiny, and jointly create a better future for the world.” 今日之中国,不仅是中国之中国,而且是亚洲之中国、世界之中国。未来之中国,必将以更加开放的姿态拥抱世界,以更有活力的文明成就贡献世界。无论国际风云如何变幻,中国将坚定不移以习近平外交思想为指导,推进中国特色大国外交,坚定维护国家主权、安全、发展利益,同时与各国一道,坚守和平、发展、公平、正义、民主、自由的全人类共同价值,推动构建新型国际关系和人类命运共同体,共同创造世界更加美好的未来.

Next we have a report about the State Council’s weekly executive meeting (English report) chaired by Premier Li Keqiang. There were two big reported outcomes from the meeting. The first focus was on “promoting mass entrepreneurship and innovation” in the 14th Five-Year Plan period. The meeting promised work in order “to leverage the role of business startups in boosting employment, creating multiple channels to ensure employment for key groups such as college graduates and migrant workers.” 

In addition, the focus was on new regulation to ensure “fairness, oppose unfair competition, and better protect the legitimate rights and interests of small, micro- and medium-sized businesses as well as self-employed individuals.” The interesting bit here, if I understand correctly, is the call to back SMEs to emerge as “little giants” that specialise in specific technologies in the manufacturing chain. I wonder whether this will really work when one thinks of capital availability and issues of economies of scale. Also discussed were “incentives for business start-ups and innovation, including tax reductions and exemptions.” These include R&D expenditure exemptions, more employee welfare policies and support to attract foreign talent.

The next part of the meeting was about “the development of new forms and models of foreign trade.” Xinhua English has the details:

“Policies to support cross-border e-commerce development will be improved. Integrated pilot zones for cross-border e-commerce will be piloted in more areas. The list of goods in cross-border e-commerce retail import will be finetuned. Management of cross-border e-commerce import and export returns and exchanges will be made more convenient. Guidelines on protecting intellectual property rights in cross-border e-commerce will be drafted, to deter counterfeit and substandard goods. The meeting required vigorous efforts to advance the development of overseas warehouses. Traditional foreign trade companies, cross-border e-commerce platforms and logistics firms will be encouraged to participate in developing overseas warehouses and make them more standardized, digitized and intelligent. Such efforts will promote micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises to go global via overseas warehouses, and drive Chinese brands and products from startups and innovation firms to expand international market.”

The last story on the page is about the CPPCC National Committee meeting ending.

Page 2: Two reports that I found noteworthy on the page. First, the National Healthcare Security Administration has said that medicines selected through the current round of the Chinese government’s new centralized drug-procurement program will be 56 percent cheaper than normal, on average, for those public health facilities that purchase them. 

Second, a report from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology shows that from January to May, the total mobile phone shipments in the domestic market totaled 148 million, a year-on-year increase of 19.3%. Among them, domestic brand mobile phone shipments totaled 131 million units, a year-on-year increase of 16.7%, accounting for 88.0% of mobile phone shipments. In May, the domestic market saw shipments of 16.739 million 5G mobile phones, an increase of 7.0% year-on-year. This accounted for 72.9% of mobile phone shipments during the month.

Page 3: There are many brief reports on the page. First, a bunch of countries have launched a joint BRI vaccine partnership initiative. The countries include: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Fiji, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

A joint statement in this regard is published on the page. The countries commit to:

  • Strengthen vaccine regulatory policy communication

  • Encourage qualified vaccine producing countries to support enterprises to provide more vaccines to COVAX

  • Push for donation or cheap export of vaccines to developing countries

  • Promote joint vaccine research and development, including tech transfer

  • Push to establish joint vaccine production partnerships

  • Encourage multilateral banks to fund vaccine development

Next, a short report about Wang Dongming, vice chairman of the NPCSC, meeting with members of parliament from four African countries. The countries are not named in the report. The focus was to “strengthen exchanges of experience in governance and administration with African national parliaments, learn from each other in areas such as poverty reduction cooperation, and promote the building of a closer China-Africa community with a shared future.”

Third, a report about Defense Minister Wei Fenghe’s comments at the Moscow Conference on International Security. You can read the English report here. It’s very limited. Fourth, we have a report about Jiang Duan, a senior official at China’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva, delivering a joint speech at the 47th session of the Human Rights Council on behalf of 15 countries. PD says that his speech was “called for respect for the diversity of the world, practice true multilateralism, and oppose the actions of countries concerned to draw ideological lines and artificially create divisions and confrontations.”

He added:

“Imposing one's own social system and democratic model on others under the banner of "democracy", wantonly interfering in other countries' internal affairs and implementing unilateral coercive measures are anti-democratic and anti-human rights acts, which violate the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”打着“民主”旗号,将自己的社会制度和民主模式强加于人,肆意干涉别国内政,实施单边强制措施,是反民主、反人权的行为,违反《联合国宪章》宗旨和原则及《世界人权宣言》

Interesting that the PD version of the events do not cover Jiang’s specific comments about Canada in response to the country leading the communique on issues related to Xinjiang from more than 40 countries. CGTN and Global Times covered this aspect. While I am on this subject, here’s Xinhua covering the Foreign Ministry statement on the UNHRC discussion on Xinjiang. This specifically focuses on the statement read by Belarus and the Chinese response to Western criticism. We’ve heard all these arguments before but what I found striking was Xinhua actually reporting and referencing Zhao Lijian’s Twitter responses.

There’s also a report in PD about Gulnar Ubul, vice-chairperson of the Xinjiang Association for Science and Technology, addressing the UNHRC session on Tuesday. She basically said (English report) that there have been no violent attacks in Xinjiang for more than four years and the region has enjoyed better economic and social development. She also pushed back against criticism on human rights by “anti-China forces.”

Next, Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi attended the SCO meeting(English report). It’s noteworthy here that Zhao attended via video link, while other SCO NSAs met in person in Dushanbe. I wonder if this has something to do with logistics ahead of the 100th anniversary celebration. Some of the key points that Zhao made:

  • He called on all parties to coordinate positions on Afghanistan

  • All parties should oppose unilateralism, resist external interference, safeguard the international system with the United Nations at its core

  • He wants all members to combat transnational crime, strengthen practical cooperation in combating the ‘three forces,’ drug production and trafficking, telecommunications and internet fraud, cross-border gambling and epidemic related crimes

  • Finally, he called for work on “information protection,” “data security,” and efforts to “actively build a community of shared future in cyberspace.”

From an Indian perspective, it’s worth keeping an eye on how policy regarding Afghanistan is evolving, and whether the SCO can be a mechanism for some sort of a region-wide understanding. Do note that the Taliban seems to be gaining ground in the country; at another, India has finally opened up direct talks with the group.

Finally, we keep getting pieces about foreign congratulatory messages for the Party’s 100th anniversary. You can check out the English versions of these - now available in 8 parts - here.

Page 4: Three short reports to note. First, Chen Xi spoke at an event for veteran party members and cadres to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Party. He wants them to “take the lead in telling stories about the party, stories about revolutions, and stories about heroes, so that the party’s good traditions and styles can be carried forward and passed on from generation to generation.”

Second, a new website’s been set up for foreign journalists and visitors to mark the centenary. Here’s the link: https://www.100cpcnews.cn/

Third, some data about travel along the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway. So far in 10 years, we’ve seen 1.35 billion passengers taking the train. The peak usage during any year was in 2019, with 210 million visits. I am not sure if this is good or good enough to make the route commercially viable. 

Page 6: Another really long Ren Lixuan commentary on the page today. There’s a reiteration of the historical narrative about the emergence of the CCP as China’s “saviour”:

“After the Opium War, China gradually became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, with the invasion of great powers, frequent wars, broken mountains and rivers and untold sufferings, and the Chinese people living in dire straits...In order to change the destiny of being enslaved and bullied, countless people with lofty ideals stepped forward and worked hard to find a way out for survival. However, facts have proved that the self-strengthening movement that did not touch the foundation of the old society, the reformism under various names, the old peasant wars, the democratic revolution led by bourgeois revolutionaries, and the various attempts at copying Western political models were unable to achieve the historical mission of saving the nation from subjugation and resisting imperialism and feudalism.” 鸦片战争以后,中国逐步沦为半殖民地半封建社会,列强入侵、战乱频仍、山河破碎、生灵涂炭,中国人民生活在水深火热之中...为了改变被奴役、被欺凌的命运,无数仁人志士前赴后继,艰辛探寻救亡图存的出路。但事实证明,不触动旧的社会根基的自强运动,各种名目的改良主义,旧式农民战争,资产阶级革命派领导的民主主义革命,照搬西方政治制度模式的各种方案,都不能完成中华民族救亡图存和反帝反封建的历史任务。

The author locates the Party’s birth in this environment, with the intent of “serving the people.” This essential message to the cadre gets repeated throughout the piece through the idea that they should “not forget the original aspiration and keep in mind the mission.” What follows after this is essentially a repeat of ideas that I’ve covered before here too. These are about making sure that the Party enjoys political support from the people and underscoring the importance of popular legitimacy. To achieve this, the author makes the point of being connected to the people and ensuring that practical issues are addressed and there is a sense of gain that they experience.

For instance, at one point, the author cites the COVID-19 containment effort and the poverty alleviation campaign to say that “the great achievements of socialism with Chinese characteristics have been made by the broad masses of people with diligence, wisdom, and courage under the leadership of the party.” The message here once again is for Party cadres to be responsible with power and ensuring that the popular legitimacy of the Party is maintained through tangible actions.

Page 7: Lots of reports about events, exhibitions and film festivals related to the centenary. So we have a report about Party members in different localities around the country coming out and repeating the oath, raising the flag and generally renewing their commitment to the Party. Another talks about a “red themed” film festival focussed on the centenary and Party’s history in Xiamen. Then we have a centenary themed photo exhibition in Macau, and the opening of a Jinggangshan to Shaoshan red tourist railway line. 

Page 13: On the Theory page today, we have a piece by Chen Li, the director of the Academic and Editorial Committee of the Central Party History and Documentation Research Institute. The only noteworthy thing about the piece is that he gives each generation of leadership space and a mention. So Mao, Deng, Jiang, Hu and Xi all get their space in Chen’s historical narrative. Also, he doesn’t touch upon anything even remotely controversial. This is a simplistic narrative of the Party’s leadership being in sync throughout and gradually leading development to bring China to where it is today.

Next, Qi Biao from the Central Party History and Literature Research Institute writes about how the Party has led China to prosperity and the “hardships” it has endured, the “sacrifices” made and the effort made to remain connected to the masses. In doing so, he engages in some CCP exceptionalism:

“There has never been a political organization that has concentrated so many advanced elements, organized so tightly and extensively, been good at summing up its experience and solemnly dealing with its mistakes as it moves forward, formulated and adhered to correct theories and lines and policies, and made so many sacrifices, established so many achievements and created so many miracles for the people in its long and arduous struggle.” 从来没有一个政治组织像中国共产党这样,集中了这么多先进分子,组织得这么严密和广泛,在前进中善于总结经验和郑重对待自己的失误,制定并坚持正确的理论和路线方针政策,并在长期艰苦卓绝的奋斗中为人民作出了那么多牺牲、建立了那么多功绩、创造了那么多奇迹.

The message in there for Party cadres is that “We must calmly examine the profound and complex changes in the international situation, fully grasp the arduous tasks of reform, development and stability, continue to focus on long-term and unremitting hard work, and walk the long march with an unrelenting spirit and an indomitable attitude, and make unremitting efforts to realize the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” 我们要冷静审视深刻复杂变化的国际形势,全面把握艰巨繁重的改革发展稳定任务,继续进行长期不懈的艰苦努力,以永不懈怠的精神状态和一往无前的奋斗姿态走好新时代的长征路,为实现中华民族伟大复兴的中国梦而不懈奋斗.