August 13, 2021 – Stealth War 50: China Withdraws Ambassador; Sino-Russian Counter-Terrorism Exercises; Skirting Human Rights; Continuing Crackdowns; Canadian Prisoners Sentenced

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri August, 2021, Age: 2 years


August 13, 2021

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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch95,000The size of Hong Kong’s Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) and one of the city’s largest labor unions. PTU announced this week that it would be disbanding under sustained pressure by the national security regime that has been rapidly implemented by Beijing.

This Week:

* China Withdraws Ambassador to Lithuania, Signaling Growing Intolerance on Taiwan Issue

* Sino-Russian Counter-Terrorism Exercises Today, Naval Drills in the Indo-Pacific Tomorrow?

* BRI Roundup – Skirting Human Rights From Cambodia to Afghanistan

* Continuing Crackdowns on Private Enterprise and COVID-19 Concern Investors

*Canadian Prisoners Sentenced Amid Tense China-Canada Relations

Top Stories

(sources: Global Times,

China Withdraws Ambassador to Lithuania, Signaling Growing Intolerance on Taiwan Issue

On Tuesday, China withdrew its ambassador from Lithuania over the Baltic state’s decision to allow Taiwan to open up a representative office there, claiming that the move “severely undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” It marks the first time that China has withdrawn an ambassador from a European Union (EU) member state since the EU was founded in 1993. The Chinese government also demanded that Lithuania recall its ambassador to China, drawing a clear red line and demonstrating its increasing intolerance on strengthening international support for Taiwan. An editorial in the state tabloid Global Times made clear its (non-authoritative, although often revealing) thoughts on the smaller nation’s agency to determine its relations with Taiwan, saying “[Lithuania’s strategy] is to cling to the U.S. as tightly as possible. It is a U.S. running dog that barks most fiercely at the strategic rivals of the U.S. in exchange for its protection.”

The move comes about a week after the approval of the first arms sale between the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and Taiwan, a $750 million package that includes artillery units, armored vehicles, and technology to upgrade some Taiwan’s existing artillery. In response to the news, the foreign ministry said that China “resolutely opposes [the sale] and has made a solemn representation to the U.S.” in addition to promising to “take countermeasures to defend its legitimate interests.” The possibility of the White House extending an invite to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to attend an upcoming democracy summit in December has also raised tensions, with one Chinese analyst predicting that such an incident could spark “unprecedented consequences.” Relatedly, Beijing’s newly appointed ambassador to Washington stressed in his first high-level meeting with U.S. officials that “the Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive issue in Sino-U.S. relations,” according to a Chinese readout of the event.

(source: WSJ; SCMP)

Sino-Russian Counter-Terrorism Exercises Today, Maritime Partnership in the Indo-Pacific Tomorrow?

This Monday, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began joint exercises with the Russian Armed Forces in the northwestern Chinese autonomous region of Ningxia Hui. The exercises, dubbed Zapad/Interaction 2021, focused on testing weapons newly acquired by the PLA, with 81 percent of the weapons being “brand new.” The exercises included over 200 aircraft sorties and the participation of 200 armored vehicles and 100 artillery launch systems. The joint exercises take place as the threat from terrorism and extremism emanating from Central Asia is higher than ever. Though planning for the exercises would have begun before the recent dramatic advances of the Taliban in Central Asia, some analysts noted Zapad/Interaction 2021 included drills for counter-terrorism operations.

Closer Sino-Russian cooperation also comes as the United States petitions allied and partner countries to coordinate responses to Beijing’s actions in the Indo-Pacific. One of the most noted examples of this coordination is the rise of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad,” consisting of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has argued that China regards the Quad as the “one of the most consequential challenges to Chinese ambitions in the years ahead.” In response, China could look to grow its partnership with Russia in the maritime theater in an attempt by Beijing to counteract a future, more closely aligned Quad partnership in the Indo-Pacific. Zhao Huasheng, a Professor of International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, recently wrote an article arguing for closer Sino-Russian maritime engagement. Zhao’s article expressly pointed to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, which includes Quad cooperation, as a direct motivator for growing Sino-Russian maritime activities in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.Although unauthoritative, it is unlikely that such analysis could have been published without permission from Beijing, given the high sensitivity of the issue. The most recent Zapad/Interaction 2021 joint exercise likely increased the interoperability of the PLA and Russian Armed Forces against extremist threats from Central Asia, and the countries could continue to expand their informal partnership through maritime engagement in a bid to counter the Quad and U.S. influence in the Indo-Pacific.

BRI Roundup

(source: SCMP)

Skirting Human Rights From Cambodia to Afghanistan

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing economic, social and cultural rights infringements that have taken place at the Lower Sesan 2 dam, a China-backed hydropower project in Cambodia. Part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the project is operated by China Huaneng Group. The dam was completed in 2018 and has caused major flooding in the Mekong River, displacing over 5,000 primarily indigenous and ethnic minority people. Affected communities were reportedly forced to resettle at inadequate sites and given little compensation or transitional support. Human Rights Watch called on China to “reform Belt and Road infrastructure development to prevent abuses in other projects undertaken in countries like Cambodia, where the government has a long track record of violating its citizens’ rights.” In response, Chinese state-backed newspaper Global Times published commentary accusing Human Rights Watch of “attempting to vilify” the BRI for the benefit of the United States. Broadly speaking, China has worked to push a development-driven narrative of human rights that undermines global norms regarding the rights of individuals; the government released a white paper on Thursday that sought to promote its agenda, emphasizing “balanced development” and the importance of achieving “moderate prosperity” over protecting minority rights.

Further demonstrating its willingness to ignore or circumvent international human rights norms in favor of development, China recently agreed to work with Myanmar’s military junta on infrastructure projects. The foreign ministry of Myanmar reported that China will transfer $6 million to Myanmar to back 21 projects. The move will help to legitimize Myanmar’s new junta government, which took power from a democratically elected government in a February coup that has been condemned by Western countries. In addition, early reporting indicates that China may recognize the Taliban if it successfully takes Afghanistan’s capital. While the news is still uncorroborated, China has held talks with the militant group on several occasions and it has also expressed interest in expanding the Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan for the sake of security in the region, especially considering the interests of its ally Pakistan.

(source: Cruisemapper).

Continuing Crackdowns on Private Enterprise and COVID-19 Concern Investors

The Chinese State Council and the Central Committee of the CCP have jointly released a ten-point plan for the “Construction of a Government Under the Rule of Law” that will run to the end of 2025 and includes prescriptions for new rules covering national security, technology and monopolies. The plan updates an earlier five-year plan on governance that expired in 2020.  It has raised concerns that China’s multifaceted crackdown on private companies—which has included campaigns aimed at the financial, technological, gaming and education sectors—is set to continue for years. Chinese company shares listed in the U.S., Hong Kong and mainland China have all fallen sharply this year as investors’ concerns grow, raising concerns about the state’s ability to drive innovation and economic growth while tightening control. The trend is not just about exerting CCP control over the economy; it is also related to an overdue need to address companies’ leveraging of historically loose regulations. According to one analysis, “China is about to become a policy laboratory in which an unaccountable state wrestles with the world’s biggest firms for control of the 21st century’s essential infrastructure,” and the outcome of this fight is by no means certain.

At the same time, experts have warned the Chinese state’s unwillingness to adapt its zero-risk COVID-19 policy risks economically isolating the world’s second-largest economy, especially as the state grapples with the contagious delta variant. On Wednesday, services at a terminal in the world’s third-busiest port of Ningbo-Zhoushan were shut down after a worker was infected with the Delta variant, threatening significant disruptions to already-strained global supply chains. China and the U.S. are also set to miss a second six-month status update meeting to discuss the Phase 1 trade deal that was supposed to take place in August, bringing back into the spotlight concerns about greater global decoupling.

(source: AP).

Canadian Prisoners Sentenced Amid Tense China-Canada Relations

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) sentencing of two Canadian nationals highlights the opacity of its judiciary system as well as the limited tools, including consular assistance, that states can use when their citizens are held by the PRC. China has hit back at allegations that it detains foreign nationals for political reasons, claiming that they are “extremely unreasonable, extremely absurd and extremely arrogant,” and arguing that such criticism represents gross interference in China’s judicial sovereignty.

On Tuesday, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg lost his death sentence appeal. He had been sentenced to 15 years in prison following a drug trafficking conviction, which he appealed in 2019, but received a death sentence after a 1-day retrial. The PRC is believed to be one of the world’s leading state executors, although official figures are unavailable. One day later, a Chinese court sentenced Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison based upon spying allegations. The sentence of Michael Korvig, another Canadian man detained around the same time as Spavor, is pending. (The two men, whose cases are seen as being linked to the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada, are often referred to as the “Two Michaels”). Canada has condemned both cases, calling the detentions arbitrary and requesting immediate releases.

The publicized sentences of Robert Schellenberg and Michael Spavor coincide almost exactly with the final hearings of Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case in Ottowa, Canada. In contrast to the Two Michaels, Meng remains free on bail and lives a luxurious lifestyle. Canada has accused China of engaging in “hostage diplomacy” and continues to advocate for transparent and fair trials.

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