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October 2018

 

Chinese media attention in the past month was focused on a number of international stories beyond the usual One Belt One Road boosterism and admonitions to the US about treating China as an equal.  In particular, China’s official announcement regarding its ‘re-education centres’ in Xinjiang promoted significant media attention, as did the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi while in custody in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.  The most covered news item of the past month however was the US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech on the strategic US-China relationship.

Mike Pence’s China Speech

In a speech at the Hudson Institute on October 4, US Vice President Mike Pence gave a comprehensive overview of China-US relations, labelling China as a strategic competitor and criticising its economic as well as its foreign policy.  The retaliation by China’s press was unsurprisingly massive and widespread, ranging from refutations of specific claims made by Pence to general dismissals of the speech and to the various parts of the government who were believed to have instigated it.  The Global Times appeared to be somewhat confused on whose views the speech reflected, with one editorial attributing them to Pence and Donald Trump, rather than the ‘establishment’: “Pence’s derogatory remarks about China represent only the radical ideas of some US politicians rather than the rational voices of establishment Americans and the public.  Fortunately there are rational minds in the US other than Trump and Pence.” 

In another editorial the paper reversed this view, painting Trump’s attempts at forging a better relationship with China as hamstrung by the ‘deep state’ and the US establishment’:  US President Donald Trump, during his campaign and early after taking office, said he wanted better relations with China and Russia. The US establishment had other ideas as Vice President Mike Pence’s recent speech against China demonstrates…[I]nstead of a new constructive foreign policy for an emerging multipolar world, Washington elites stick to a Cold War zero-sum mind-set. Pence’s speech is the latest demonstration of the inability of US elites to learn from history and to develop policy accordingly.”

Other editorials sought to push back on specific claims made by Pence in the speech. The People’s Daily accused Pence of stirring up trouble with Taiwan, deemed to one of China’s core interests: “Pence accused China of threatening the stability of the Strait by establishing diplomatic relations with three Latin American countries.  His comment was an attempt to cause trouble concerning China’s core interest, raising reasonable doubt about the intentions of the United States.”  As Pence’s remarks on the matter we actually quite brief, the article falls back on the boilerplate accusations made by China regarding US involvement in Taiwan: “[S]ince taking office, the current U.S. administration has constantly used Taiwan as a bargaining chip to contain China. It intensified arms sales to Taiwan. The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2019 even includes clauses to strengthen Taiwan’s force readiness, and expand joint drills, arms sales and high-level military exchanges. All the moves showed how the U.S. side has tried to manipulate the situation across the Strait and subjected the interests and wellbeing of Chinese people on both sides to its domestic politics. In essence, it shows a cold-war mentality, arrant egoism, and hegemony.”

In another op-ed the People’s Daily focused on US involvement in the South China Seas, listing the three ‘gimmicks’ employed by the US to interfere in the contested region: “In recent years, the United States has resorted to a variety of gimmicks on the South China Sea issue, yet all of them can be categorized into three patterns. Firstly, flex muscles and stoke tensions under the pretense of so-called “freedom-of-navigation operations.”… Secondly, fabricate rumors and mislead the world with its dominant power to sway international public opinion. In Washington’s hegemonic logic, the United States’ deployment of advanced gunships and bombers to the South China Sea is not an act of militarization, nor is its frequent -in reconnaissance near Chinese islands, but China’s legitimate construction of necessary defense facilities on its own territory is…Thirdly, drive wedges between different parties involved in the South China Sea issue and pressure them into choosing sides. Washington has been taking advantage of the South China Sea issue to play nations in the region off against each other. he United States has long been meddling in the elections and other internal affairs of some Southeast Asian countries, and its decision on whether to interfere almost solely depends on the target country’s attitude toward China and stance on the South China Sea issue. “  

The part of Pence’s speech that received the most scrutiny in China however was the accusation of Chinese election meddling in the US.  The People’s Daily led with a straight rebuttal of claim:  “There is no convincing evidence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in US politics; furthermore, it is well-documented that China has long been committed to the principle of non-interference in foreign affairs. It is more likely, therefore, that the administration wants to make a scapegoat of China to distract from its troubles and failures.”  China Daily refuted the specific claim that China was targeting its retaliatory trade measures to impact certain voter in the US mid-terms.  “Washington is claiming that China has targeted certain voters in the US midterm elections with its retaliatory trade measures. That is nonsense because these trade measures are a legitimate response to Washington’s tariff offensive targeting Beijing. China has been forced to fight back, and it has done so tit-for-tat, it has nothing to do with US voters or elections…These consequences are of Washington’s own making.”  The article also attempts to turn the tables on the US as the country meddling in other’s affairs, a long-standing grievance of China: “[T]he United States has been interfering in China’s internal affairs concerning Taiwan, Tibet and the South China Sea. It is also crystal clear which country tends to meddle in other countries’ internal affairs via military invasions, economic sanctions, cultural infiltration or election manipulation.’

It was the Global Times however, who appeared to have the last word on Pence’s speech, dismissing it wholesale as voter grandstanding during the election season: Pence’s speech is intended to help the Republicans and the president win elections. It aims to help Trump get rid of Russiagate by shifting attention from Russian interference to Chinese meddling, which not only tallies with Washington’s current China policy but also could mobilize Americans’ hatred against foreign intervention to win votes for Republicans. Except for slogans, it’s noteworthy that Pence didn’t put forward the countermeasures the US may introduce…Pence made the speech primarily for the midterm elections and placed more focus on swaying public opinion.” While the article recognises the seriousness of the ongoing trade war, it took a sanguine view on US willingness to follow up on the various allegations made by Pence: “The US-launched trade war is a brutal and lose-lose move that has caused huge controversy. What can the US do with China’s normal commercial behavior? The US accuses China of a variety of things taking place around China, but it dare not push the latter too hard out of fear of China’s countermeasures”

Xinjiang Detention Camps

Following mounting international criticism and press coverage of China’s network of political detention camps holding up to 1m people in the western province of Xinjiang, the government in October broke its policy of silence and delivered detailed justifications for the camps, describing inmates as “students” in Xinjiang’s “vocational education and training program.”

The Global Times was quick to pick up the story justifying the camps: “Some governments above county level in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have set up vocational training centers, where people who are brainwashed by extreme thoughts and have committed misdemeanors learn Putonghua, China’s national language, laws and job skills. These training centers, helping to enable these people to return to normal life, have played a key role in stabilizing Xinjiang. The anti-extremism regulation released by the region provides the legal basis for it.”  The article, like most editorials also addressed Western criticism of the camps.  While other editorials sought to paint Western views as misinformed, this article took a more sinister view: “What do those Westerners who denounce governance in Xinjiang want? … some Western political and opinion elites who are not only arrogant, but also malicious against China. They just want to see a turbulent Xinjiang. They hope China’s governance model fails in Xinjiang and makes Xinjiang a mishap amid China’s rise…They are only interested in messing with local governance and embarrassing the central government.

Other articles focused on the justifying the camps by pointing to the results that they are ostensibly achieving, both in terms of stopping terrorism and in terms of re-educating Xinjiang’s population.  In another editorial the Global Times wrote that; “The three evil forces – separatism, extremism and terrorism – are stubborn diseases affecting Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Acute illnesses need equally drastic medicine. Xinjiang society has been transformed from one of chaos to that of effective governance. Since last year, no violent terrorist attack has taken place in the region.”  Pointing to global terrorism statistics the article goes on to conclude that “The governance in China stands in stark contrast to the turmoil in the rest of the world, including the West.”  Like all articles on the topic the editorial fails to mention that the inmates in these camps are overwhelmingly Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic group who make up nearly 50% of the region’s population:  “People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang have undergone profound mindset changes and are today against Pan-Islamism, Pan-Turkism and the three evil forces…These changes prove that the pursuit of stability, unity and development has become the main theme of Xinjiang.”

Finally, Chinese media also sought to defend against accusations of human rights violations by contrasting the government’s ‘successes’ in Xinjiang with other global areas of crisis.  The Global Times wrote that:  “Since the beginning of this year, some Western media and politicians have been viciously attacking actions adopted by Xinjiang to help those affected by extremism to return to their families and society through educational transformation, accusing Xinjiang of “violating human rights…By strengthening governance, Xinjiang has avoided extreme situations which happened in other parts of the world. It should be seen as a rare positive example of governing high-risk situations. From Bosnia and Herzegovina to Kosovo, Libya and Syria, the tragic stories are different but also similar. Many people died and a large number of refugees fled those regions. The West intervened in those regions’ turmoil, but the price was high. Does the West really want to see shocking humanitarian disasters in Xinjiang and watch Xinjiang create hundreds of thousands even millions of refugees?”

Khashoggi Death and Human Rights

Finally, the death of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi while in custody in the Saudi consulate in Turkey and subsequent international reactions prompted a series of Chinese editorials that used the case to highlight what they saw as Western hypocrisy on human rights.  In an initial editorial, the Global Times  made a distinction between Western and developing  countries in terms of their reactions to the killing: “This is a rare conflict between Western countries and their Middle East ally over human rights. Most developing countries do not get involved in this conflict…The governments of Western countries are under pressure to chime in with public opinion, but they have shown no intention of harshly punishing Saudi Arabia.”  The article argues that human rights for the West are a geopolitical rather than moral matter: “Will the US government compromise its insistence on human rights for geopolitical and economic interests? Perhaps yes. The US government has already indicated that the final stage for human rights is geopolitics rather than ideology.”   Interestingly, though, the article contradicts itself by also accusing the West of being inflexible and ‘sticking to its values’, something the author apparently does not approve of: “Western opinion sticks to its values and refuses to change under any circumstances. Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi used to be an icon of human rights in Western opinion, but her image in the West was impaired by the Rohingya crisis.”  The article does not detail however why her image should not have been ‘impaired’ by the crisis

In another editorial the Global Times sought to highlight what it saw as a double standard being applied to human rights issues by the West: “The crisis has shown how human rights issues are positioned in the diplomatic arena…Western countries have conducted “human rights diplomacy” against many non-Western countries on different occasions and to a varying degree”  The article compares the actions taken by Western countries against Russia after the Skripal poisoning with the reactions to the Khashoggi killing: “Russia was accused of being behind the poisoning of ex-Russian agent Sergei Skripal earlier this year. Led by Britain and supported by the US, a number of Western countries imposed harsh sanctions on Russia, including expelling Russian diplomats…Now Western public opinion is much angrier toward Saudi Arabia. Spontaneous boycotts quickly took place. But in contrast, fewer denunciations come from the Western governments and no country is taking the lead in punishing Saudi Arabia.”  The article concludes with the view that while non-Western countries should seek to develop human rights, they should also develop strategies to counter the West’s ‘human rights diplomacy’: “The case shows that there are double, even multiple standards for the West’s human rights diplomacy. Non-Western countries should develop human rights. At the same time they should build strength to win more initiative to deal with human rights diplomacy.”

 

 

 

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