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July 16, 2021 – Stealth War 46: China’s New Aircraft Carrier; Xinjiang Human Rights; Chinese Workers Killed in Pakistan

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri July, 2021, Age: 2 years



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July 16, 2021

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The amount by which Chinese exports surged year-on-year in June, outpacing expectations by nearly 10 percent. But state officials have announced plans to cut banks’ reserve requirement ratios and provide support to counter soaring commodities prices, reflecting concerns that China’s trade growth will slow in the second half of the year as international consumers spend more on services amid pandemic recoveries.

This Week:

* China Nears Completion of New Aircraft Carrier Amid Naval Expansion

* This Week’s Responses to Alleged Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Xinjiang

* BRI Roundup: Montenegro Restructures Debt to China; Laos Falls Deeper Into Hole

* Explosion Kills 9 Chinese Workers in Pakistan as Regional Insecurity Threatens Beijing’s Interests

* Beijing Launches the World’s Largest Emissions Trading Program

Top Stories

China Nears Completion of New Aircraft Carrier Amid Naval Expansion

New satellite imagery of the Type 003 Chinese carrier in development taken on July 12 appeared to show that the vessel could be completed as early as the end of this year. Earlier estimates placed the timing of the vessel entering the water in 2022. The Type 003 aircraft carrier is more advanced than China’s previous aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, which were based on decades-old Soviet designs. Based on satellite imagery, the Type 003 appears to be closer in size to the new U.S. Ford-class aircraft carriers, though the Chinese vessel is 13 meters shorter. The new carrier is also expected to have state-of-the-art catapult systems, called Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). EMALS are present on the USS Ford, and although the technology has run into issues, it is expected to eventually provide a faster launch rate for aircraft. Having EMALS on the Type 003 will allow the carrier to field new types of aircraft that can be launched with more fuel and larger payloads than currently capable on the Liaoning and Shandong.

China has aggressively pursued its expansion of maritime power. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) launched two dozen large naval warships—including corvettes and destroyers—in 2019 alone. The Type 003’s successor is believed to start construction this year as well, with British defense intelligence estimating that China will have 5 carriers by 2030. The rapid naval buildup has alarmed regional rivals. India and Japan lack similar capabilities and have become extremely concerned about China’s increasing naval power. In Japan’s latest annual defense white paper, China is listed as the main national security concern, and Tokyo additionally expressed concerns about the future of Taiwan and the security of the Okinawa island chain. Indian national security officials have also long been worried about encroaching PLAN patrols in their backyard, in the Indian Ocean region. Indian Navy’s two carriers lack a catapult launch system and its carrier capacity is expected to be outpaced by China in 2025. At the current rate of development, Japan and India’s security interests are at real risk of being compromised in the coming decade.

This Week’s Responses to Alleged Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Xinjiang

Human rights have remained a target for diplomatic shots between China and the U.S., even as momentum grows for U.S. businesses to divest from Xinjiang. On Monday, the U.S. State Department published a report reiterating its allegations that China is committing genocide against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. The State Department also issued an updated business advisory warning U.S. companies about “heightened risks for businesses with supply chain and investment links to Xinjiang” due to the high number of entities believed to be complicit in forced labor and other human rights abuses, both in Xinjiang and throughout the rest of China. It adds that “businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and/or investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating U.S. law” due to the severity and extent of these abuses. The Senate also passed a bill to ban imports from Xinjiang; it will be signed into law if it passes the House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, China published a white paper that outlined how the Chinese Communist Party was “Respecting and Protecting the Rights of All Ethnic Groups in Xinjiang.” In a further sign of propagandist’s hardening attitudes against criticism of China, the white paper “slammed some foreign media and politicians for spreading rumors, distortions, and complete fabrications about Xinjiang.” In May, CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping exhorted Chinese diplomats and media members to present a “credible, lovable, and respectable” image of China to the world. This has not softened the rhetoric of wolf warrior diplomats. Instead, state broadcasters have been turning to a number of creative efforts to improve China’s reputation abroad, including leveraging foreign influencers and expanding media partnerships with developing countries.

BRI Roundup

BRI Roundup: Montenegro Restructures Debt to China; Laos Falls Deeper Into Hole

On July 8, Montenegro reached a deal with U.S. and French banks to restructure its debt owed to China. The Balkan country’s debt to the Export-Import Bank of China was $1 billion, representing a fifth of the nation’s GDP, and came due during the global recession caused by the ongoing pandemic. The restructuring deal has helped to lower Montenegro’s interest rate from 2 percent to .88 percent, saving the country $9.5 million a year. The loan had been declined by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which saw it as being commercially unviable. Western capitals worried that Montenegro, a NATO member-state and applicant for membership in the European Union, could become overly dependent on Chinese assistance. Montenegro has openly warned Brussels to assist it financially, or risk losing influence in the country to Beijing. Analysts have said that the deal with US and French banks will help to stave off Chinese influence in the country, as it provides a potential long-term solution to servicing the debt.

Meanwhile, concerns are growing that Laos is also becoming encumbered by significant debt owed to Chinese banks. In June, the country approved the construction of an expressway connecting its capital Vientiane to the southern city of Pakse, financed by Chinese loans. Construction is now well underway. The expressway will be owned and operated by Chinese construction companies, who will take profits from the road for 50 years, at which point it will revert to the Laotian government. A Chinese company will also own, operate and profit from a high speed railway connecting Vientiane to southern China that is set to open in December. The projects demonstrate China’s continued ambition to connect itself with Southeast Asia, and the tendency of smaller countries’ on its periphery to risk significant debt in the hopes of future economic growth that does not always materialize.

Explosion Kills 9 Chinese Workers in Pakistan as Regional Insecurity Threatens Beijing’s Interests

On Wednesday, an explosion on a Pakistani bus killed 13, including 9 Chinese workers. The bus was on its way to work on a World Bank-funded hydropower project at the Dasu dam in the Upper Kohistan district of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Though Pakistan originally denied that the explosion was the result of a terrorist attack, on July 15 the Pakistani information minister stated that traces of explosives had been found in the remains of the bus, and that terrorism could not be ruled out. An official conclusion is pending.

As the security situation in Afghanistan unravels, analysts are watching how China’s role in the region changes and how its current investments in the region are affected. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the approximately $60 billion hallmark of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is threatened by new security developments in Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the prime suspect of the attack on the bus in Upper Kohistan. The TTP previously took credit for an April car bombing that targeted a hotel in Quetta where the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan had just been staying.

News of the explosion broke just as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Pakistani counterpart in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. From July 12 to July 16, Wang has toured Central Asia to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan. He visited Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and travelled to Tajikistan for the ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), where Afghan security was at the center of discussions. 

In statements made last week, the Afghan Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said that China was “welcome” in the country. Shaheen stated that in an Afghanistan dominated by the Taliban, the group would guarantee the safety of Chinese investors and workers if they were to return, and even went so far as to state that the Taliban would no longer support Uyghur separatist fighters, with whom the Taliban has previously been associated. China previously welcomed Taliban leaders to Beijing in 2019, signaling that they would be able to work with the group should they seize power.

As the Taliban make notable advances in Afghanistan, including up to the country’s border with China, the breakdown in governance could give militant groups such as the TTP a staging ground from which to attack CPEC investments. However, China is unlikely to back down from its largest BRI investment, and has demonstrated a willingness to work with the Taliban to ensure its continued influence in the region.

Beijing Launches the World’s Largest Emissions Trading Program

On Friday, China established the world’s largest emissions trading market. The scheme sets carbon emission permits for participating firms, including 2,225 companies in China’s energy sector that cumulatively account for approximately one-seventh of total global emissions. The program’s launch will allow China to overtake the European Union’s emissions trading market, which is also set to undergo significant changes following the EU’s declaration that it seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. China’s carbon trading program will hopefully help fulfill its ambitious goal to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2060. But China’s green efforts have been facing headwinds at home. Extreme weather, surging energy demands, and strict limits on coal have combined to create the worst power outages seen in China in a decade, even as the country continues to pursue a resource-intensive economic recovery from the global pandemic driven by manufacturing and infrastructure building.

China’s announcement comes as major actors in the United States debate whether and how to cooperate with Beijing on ameliorating climate change. At the start of July, over 40 progressive groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden and top Democrats urging cooperation with China to institute climate policies over confrontation on issues such as the political situation in Hong Kong and internment camps in Xinjiang. In response, some activists criticized any step away from the United States’ commitment to human rights, and others argued that competition will be more effective than cooperation. Previously, the United States has sought to separate climate change from issues such as strategic competition and human rights concerns.

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