China

Peng Shuai, A Reckoning China's Communist Party Can't Afford To Face

The mysterious disappearance – and brief reappearance – of the Chinese tennis star after her #metoo accusation against a party leader shows Beijing is prepared to do whatever is necessary to quash any challenge from its absolute rule.

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai's apparent disappearance may have ended with a smattering of public events, which were carefully curated by state-run media and circulated in online clips. But many questions remain about the three weeks in which she was missing, and concerns linger over her well-being.

Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, had been out of the public eye since Nov. 2. 2021 when she penned a since-deleted social media post accusing former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct.

In the U.S. and Europe, such moments of courage from high-profile women have built momentum to out perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault and give a voice to those wronged. But in the political context of today's People's Republic of China (PRC) – a country that tightly controls political narratives within and outside its borders – something else happened. Peng was seemingly silenced; her #MeToo allegation was censored almost as soon as it was made.

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Russia Space Blast Endangers Astronauts, Belarus Border Clashes, Leo’s Beach

👋 ሰላም!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Russia is under fire for blowing up a satellite in space, clashes erupt at the Poland-Belarus border and Leo's Beach opens again. Courtesy of German daily Die Welt, we also look at the reasons behind the major discrepancies in COVID-19 vaccination rates across Europe.

[*Selam, Amharic - Ethiopia]

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

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Why Chinese Youth Are Still So Eager To Join The Communist Party

BEIJING — "Ever since I was a kid, I've always wanted to join the party..." Yanru, a 22-year-old university student studying at a well-known university in northern China, just became a CCP member last year. For her and her peers, joining the Chinese Communist Party is something that just seems natural: "It has led us to victories, fought back the foreign colonists, and built up the strong and prosperous new China today."

For Yanru, the purpose of joining the party is to serve the society, and to be useful for the country. "There is only one correct motive for joining the party, that is to serve the people with full hearts, and to eventually fully achieve communism," she wrote in her membership application letter.

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Geopolitics
Deng Yuwen

Strait Talk: China Invading Taiwan Is Mostly Just A Matter Of Time

Though Beijing is not likely to launch any overt operation right away, experts predict it's most likely to try to force Taiwan's reunification between 2025 and 2030. This would almost certainly prompt a U.S. response.

-Analysis-

TAIPEI — There has been no shortage of recent warnings about China trying to take over Taiwan by force. The May 1 cover story of The Economist called Taiwan: "The most dangerous place on earth."

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CLARIN
Carlos Ruckauf

Argentina Looks For Its 'Niche' in China's Trading Empire

Argentina must discern and deftly negotiate for its national interests in the rising, global trading order dominated by China.

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — Countries have reacted individually to the spectacular progression of China's global trading plan, colloquially called the "new silk road" but officially titled the "Belt and Road Initiative".

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Economy
Frédéric Lemaître

Billionaire Surveillance: China Tracks Its Tech Moguls

For a number of weeks now, Beijing has been trying to regain control of its internet heroes, who are considered too dominant. E-commerce giants and their standard-bearer, Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma, are directly in the line of fire.

BEIJING — The tides are turning for Chinese tech giants. Previously cherished by a regime whose achievements they embody, Alibaba, Tencent, Meituan and JD.com have become victims of their success. To everyone's surprise, their spiritual father, the Chinese Communist Party, is currently dishing out a series of reprimands to try to intimidate them to fall in line.

Logically, the best victim to make an example of is the biggest: Jack Ma, president of Alibaba, the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. On Nov. 3, less than 48 hours before the historic IPO of its financial subsidiary, Ant, supervisory authorities humiliated Ma by blocking the operation. This move deprived the Chinese billionaire of an additional 37 billion dollars. This decision was made by President Xi Jinping himself, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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India
Rahul Bedi

India-China Standoff: Dalai Lama, A Not-So-Secret Weapon

The Narendra Modi government has largely ignored the Tibetan leader, who lives in exile in India, but the country's military leaders now say support for the iconic monk could be the perfect way to push back on China.

CHANDIGARH — In incessant rounds of official wrangling over attaining long-term leverage to counter China following the border face-off in eastern Ladakh, India has one compelling potential factor that remains either obscured or, at best, mentioned sotto voce: the Dalai Lama.

Astonishingly, there has been no official reference over the past few months to the Tibetan spiritual leader – the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso – whose presence in India has been anathema to Beijing ever since he exiled himself here 61 years ago in 1959. Even "inspired" leaks to an ever obliging domestic media about the government making amends for cold shouldering the 85-year old Nobel laureate in recent years to please Beijing are absent.

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Hong Kong

Xi Jinping Risks All And Nothing In Hong Kong Crackdown

-OpEd-

Chinese tanks have not rolled through the streets of Hong Kong, but Beijing's legislative coup Tuesday, on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the territory's handover to China, is provoking a similar fear. Pro-democracy business owners have hastily removed the slogans that lined their storefronts and thousands are applying to emigrate, with Australia set to offer safe haven.

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Coronavirus
Dominique Moisi

Coronavirus And The Global Cost Of Chinese Secrecy

-Analysis-

PARIS — In his most recent book, Chine, le Grand Paradoxe (China, the Great Paradox), Jean-Pierre Raffarin reminds us that, "the key to diplomacy is reciprocal respect."

Prime minister at the height of the SARS crisis, in 2003, Raffarin was one of the rare foreign leaders to proceed with a scheduled trip to China. The gesture — and display of personal courage — did not go unnoticed by the Chinese, who rewarded him with both recognition and friendship.

Respect and friendship shouldn't mean complacency, however. With 1.4 billion people's lives at stake — and perhaps many more — this is no time for half-truths or, in the case of the World Health Organization, half-criticisms.

What's really happening in China? Medical uncertainties regarding the development of the virus, along with the nature of the Chinese regime itself, make this a difficult question to answer. The situation is anything but transparent.

What is clear is that there needs to be solidarity with and empathy toward the Chinese people. The "yellow scare" reaction against Asian people who live here is simply scandalous. It's a throwback to the worst moments in our history, an expression of the darkest side of human nature.

This knee-jerk reaction of fear and rejection needs to be challenged head on, especially because in facing this epidemic (let's not go so far as to call it a pandemic), international solidarity is one of the keys to success. How can we expect to save ourselves "alone" by building walls, real or symbolic, and by hiding behind nationalist reflexes when the very protective masks we may need — and that are out of stock in many countries — use components that come from places all over the world, including China, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Mexico and Colombia?

The Chinese leadership prioritizes the unity of the country behind the party.

Like nationalism, the pathological taste for secrecy is another obstacle standing in the way of a quick response to the epidemic. In China, precious weeks appear to have been lost because of this insistence on the total control of information. And there's no way now to recover that lost time.

To justify the centralization of power, the Chinese leadership prioritizes the unity of the country behind the party. In their eyes, that requires secrecy, the stifling of a free press, and limits on civil liberties. But do the actions of the Chinese leader always serve their stated interests?

In the name of national unity, China has tightened its control over Hong Kong while pushing Taiwan even further away from the motherland. In the last presidential elections, a majority of Taiwanese showed that they're more concerned about freedoms and the rule of law than they are about ties to mainland China.

The death of the coronavirus "whistleblower," Dr. Li Wenliang, prompted a public outcry in China that forced the normally secluded President Xi Jinping to finally make a public appearance and later remove key authorities in the province of Hubei and city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.

On Feb. 18 in Jiangsu — Photo: Su Yang/SIPA Asia/ZUMA

But it's clear that initially, China prioritized the party above the safety of its citizens and, by extension, the safety of the world as a whole. What happens now if the virus gains a foothold in a continent with as fragile a public health infrastructure as Africa?

It would probably be an exaggeration to describe this as a "Chinese Chernobyl," or to draw a comparison between Li Wenliang and the Tunisian fruit and vegetable seller who set himself on fire in 2010, which sparked the Arab Spring. Xi Jinping isn't Gorbachev or Ben Ali. China isn't Tunisia. And unless this really does develop into an uncontrollable pandemic, the so-called Celestial Empire won't be in the situation that the USSR faced in the late 1980s.

Authoritarianism contains its own contradictions.

Faced with an event of unknown magnitude, the possible economic, still-to-be-determined political and geopolitical consequences, we need to find the right balance. Between the Bolshevism of democracy and complacency towards the Chinese regime, there is a middle way. As the Asian affairs specialist François Godement writes: "Is Xi, by wanting to be "president of everything," therefore responsible for everything?" A democratic regime would have reacted more quickly. But would it necessarily have been more effective?

Still, in the face of an epidemic of this scale, the absence of the rule of law and the inexistence of checks and balances are certainly handicaps, both in terms of rapid response and preserving citizen confidence.

In May 1986, roughly 15 days after the Chernobyl disaster, I found myself in Moscow for professional reasons. I recall being approached numerous times on the street by Moscow residents asking me anxiously: "You're from the West. Tell us, What can we eat and drink? Our leaders lie to us." How could I tell them that in my country, the authorities were assuring us that the so-called "bad air" miraculously stopped at the border with Germany, having the courtesy not to cross the Rhine?

When all is said and done, the monopoly of power in China will no doubt survive this health crisis, even if, in the short term, it will have to show a bit less triumphalism and more modesty. But one fundamental question will remain: Can absolute authoritarianism be a response to "democratic confusion?" Probably not. And that's because authoritarianism contains its own contradictions.

How can a country present itself, alongside the United Nations, as the defender of order and international law, when it has so little respect for the rule of law at home? This is the problem with China. And if the epidemic becomes a pandemic, it will be a problem for us all.

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Economy
Stefan Braun

China Unleashed, Europe Paralyzed: A View From Germany

The Asian giant is like a super-charged Formula 1 car racing past a beautiful, but old Fiat 500.

-OpEd-

BERLIN — Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany for nearly 13 years, and she travels to China almost once a year. She has visited vegetable markets and old shrines, talked to mayors and argued with party officials. She's seen German factories and examined Chinese companies. She's taken cooking classes and had driverless cars shown to her. No other country has aroused Merkel's curiosity as much as China.

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China
Frédéric Schaeffer

Everyone's A Suspect: How China Keeps Tabs On 1.4 Billion People

With facial recognition cameras and Big Data, the Chinese leadership is pushing its penchant for surveillance to new heights.

BEIJING — He'd been waiting months for this moment. With his wife and friends, Mr. Ao was finally going to be able to see his idol on stage. It was the first Saturday of April and legendary singer Jacky Cheung was about to play at the Nanchang Stadium. Some 60,000 people were gathered to see one of what the media call the four "gods' of "cantopop," a music genre that is incredibly popular in southeast China.

But Mr. Ao, 31, only had enough time to hear the opening notes when two policemen seized him right in the middle of the crowd. He was already known to the authorities for an "economic crime," and during security checks at the stadium entrance he was spotted by cameras equipped with facial recognition technology.

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Geopolitics

We May Have Just Witnessed The Moment China Overtook The U.S.

It will be marked in the historical record as the date when China took over control of Far East Asia.

WASHINGTON — There are very few moments in our lives when we have a chance to witness such an extraordinary political performance as unfolded a few days ago in Beijing. Unexpectedly, the 34-year-old North Korean dictator decided to pay a visit to his political tutor Xi Jinping, 30 years his senior and the strongman of China. Xi, who recently forced his political subordinates to grant him a mandate that allows him to reign in China until the end of his days, now has similar powers as pre-revolutionary emperors, notably the first Communist tsar, Mao Zedong.

Only a month after Xi Jinping gained his imperial powers, the young Kim Jong-un put his own imperial outfit on, summoned his wife, and boarded the family's armored train. Heading to the capital of the Middle Kingdom, it was like the prodigal son's return home, a harmony within the political universe that we all thought was long gone. Instead, it came and hit with a powerful blow, not at all as nostalgic as a Hollywood remake, but a strong statement that the old is the future of the world order.

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China 2.0
Dominique Moisi

China, Deconstructing Xi Jinping's Imperial Temptation

By becoming president for life, Xi Jinping is bringing China back to its imperial history, taking advantage of the exceptional development of his country but also of America's mistakes. But Chinese coming fortunes are still very much up in the air.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Lord Acton's famous remark comes quickly to mind after China's decision to remove term limits for its president. From now on Xi Jinping can be considered "president for life."

In a democracy, the more personalized a regime is, the more fragile it tends to become. But does this warning also apply to authoritarian regimes? Isn't China's "institutional revolution" simply the product of an inevitable evolution that reinforces — as the Chinese would say — a harmonious mix of centralization, and thus of additional rationality?

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Sources
Dominique Seux

Trump Rolls Out 'Madman Strategy' For Global Trade War

-Analysis-

PARIS — With his new sweeping round of protectionist tariffs on steel and aluminum, it looks like Donald Trump has decided to extend to the economic field the "madman strategy" he had already applied to the Korean Peninsula. That was the take last week from former CIA Director David Petraeus. Developed by the Nixon-Kissinger tandem during the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, this approach consists of leaving opponents in a state of uncertainty and making them believe that anything is possible, and that nothing is forbidden.

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China 2.0
Cyrille Pluyette

In China's Crackdown On Religions, Buddhism Gets A Pass

President Xi Jinping demands 'inflexible atheism' from his fellow Communist Party members. But he also has a soft spot for Buddhism, sources suggest.

ZHENGDING — Dozens of Chinese tourists eat their picnics in the shadow of the majestic Linji Temple pagoda, the birthplace of one of the most famous branches of Buddhism. The monument, with its finely carved gray bricks, contains the relics of the founder of the school, which dates back to the ninth century during the Tang dynasty.

Circulating in the alleys lined with cypresses, bamboos and tropical plants with red flowers, visitors walk through the temple's dormitories and refectory before gathering in a prayer room in front of golden buddhas. From there they enter the former home — now a museum — of the venerable monk Shi Youming, who ran the place of worship until his death in 2010. Objects that belonged to the Zen master are exhibited in showcases, as well as old photos from the temple before its restoration in the early 1980s.

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