First we take the Solomon Islands …

China is turning its eyes to the strategic importance of the South Pacific and the Solomon Islands

ChinaDiction was founded by Chris Taylor, a long-time observer of China, Taiwan and cross-strait affairs. China is many stories. ChinaDiction brings them to you three times a week. Free. Below is the newsletter from March 25. Click here for the ChinaDiction website.

Chinese soldiers and police may be deployed in the Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands, which might also resupply People’s Liberation Army (PLA) shipping, according to a leaked security cooperation agreement

According to the Financial Times, “The The draft agreement, which was leaked on Thursday and which two people with direct knowledge of the document said was authentic, will give China a military foothold in the Pacific Ocean.”

At issue is the possibility that the Chinese navy could obtain a permanent base in the South Pacific, which the US, Australia and New Zealand are less than excited about.

The Australian Broadcasting Commission reports:

A draft official document – which emerged on social media on Thursday – lays down a framework which could permit Beijing to deploy forces to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands”.

The agreement says Solomon Islands may ‘request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces’ to the country.

Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University, said the draft document was symptomatic of “Belt and Road colonialism, China’s Indo-Pacific empire.” 

Australia’s top diplomat to Solomon Islands, Lachie Strahan, said that the Solomons International Assistance Force would remain in place until the end of next year, and more monetary aid would be headed to Honiara.

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Notes the Australian ABC

…  Australia has long been the main security provider to Solomon Islands and is determined to retain its pre-eminence in that role.

In November, the federal government deployed federal police and ADF personnel to Honiara to restore calm following a request for support from Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

China, apparently, thinks it could do the job just as well, as part of its efforts to secure a leading role in the South Pacific.

In somewhat related news, the US announced that President Biden is appointing Ambassador Joseph Yun as Special Presidential Envoy to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau – collectively known as the Freely Associated States (FAS).

Ambassador Yun has more than 33 years of diplomatic experience, including as the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy and as the United States Ambassador to Malaysia.

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China: You Know That No-Limits Friendship Thing?
True Bromance, but with ‘bottom lines’ and in accordance with international norms and the feelings of the Chinese people: Photo: Wiki Commons.

Beijing’s ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, set out to set some things straight regarding the joint communique issued by China and Russia at the start of the Winter Olympics, before the outbreak of outright war with Ukraine. Bloomberg reports:

‘China and Russia’s cooperation has no forbidden areas, but it has a bottom line,’ Ambassador Qin Gang told state-backed broadcaster Phoenix TV on Wednesday. ‘That line is the tenets and principles of the United Nations Charter, the recognized basic norms of international law and international relations.’ 

Basically, it’s probably best seen as a non-committal nod to standards that might be useful if China needs an exit door. After all, Xi’s buddy Putin has already flouted “the recognized basic norms of international law and international relations” by invading a neighboring sovereign nation, which is a breach of international law. As The European Council on Foreign Relations puts it, the invasion is ”a manifest violation of Article 2.4 of the UN Charter, which prohibits the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.”

Xiao Bin, a research fellow at the state-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, last week noted that China and Russia’s strategic partnership “emerged from a state of no war,” saying that the subsequent invasion had changed those dynamics. “Therefore, China-Russia relations certainly have upper limits, which are the interests of the Chinese people,” he wrote on the website of the China-United States Exchange Foundation. That post is still available on China’s internet. 

It’s most likely that Xi Jinping is going to play a patient, long-term game with Putin’s so-far shambolic invasion of Ukraine. But we can expect further announcements on bottom lines etc. China only invokes “international norms” at its own convenience. So far, it has portrayed itself as neutral …

… supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and expressing concern about civilian casualties, while supporting Putin at the United Nations and blaming the US for provoking the war by expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). 

Shifting blame for the war to the US and Nato while pretending to sit on the fence and offering blandishments about national sovereignty are deceits that might well wash with the majority of the Chinese public, but should decisively wake the world to the Chinese agenda under Xi: We got the loot, now we want our own sphere of influence to rival that of the US and ultimately defeat it.

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And You Know About That Neutrality Thing on the War?
We’re friends to the bitter end, really … Photo: Wiki Commons.

CNN reports that China’s internal messaging tells an entirely different story about its position on Russia and Ukraine than its often contradictory external messaging does. CNN comments:

There, an alternate reality is playing out for China’s 1.4 billion people, one in which the invasion is nothing more than a “special military operation,” according to its national broadcaster CCTV; the United States may be funding a biological weapons program in Ukraine, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is a victim standing up for a beleaguered Russia.

That’s one thing, but Chinese media is also paying the likes of Twitter, Facebook and TikTok spread the message abroad. Notes Foreign Policy:

The current line China is trying to push onto Western social media platforms is a well-developed lie about U.S. bioweapon experiments in Ukraine. This is a propaganda line well developed in Russian media—but Beijing isn’t promoting it to help Moscow as much as it is to just smear the West. Since early 2020, China has promoted claims that COVID-19 really originated outside of China and created a fantasy story of U.S. military experimentation at Fort Detrick that created the virus. This claim, heavily normalized in China, is a convenient distraction from China’s own failings in allowing the virus to spread in Wuhan. As omicron challenges China’s containment system, blaming the West is a useful distraction—but it’s also become a routine exercise for Chinese media.

On Monday morning, state broadcaster CCTV’s morning news highlighted Moscow’s claim that biological weapons in Ukrainian labs were being funded by Washington. In other words, the narrative is that Ukraine, a US puppet state is receiving funding to develop biological weapons that are a threat to Russia.

If such news wasn’t so promiscuous, it would be a harmless diplomatic-level war of words, but that CCTV report began trending on Weibo almost immediately and had garnered more than 45 million views within hours. The Western social media platforms are no less promiscuous–and, sadly, often no less gullible.

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Should China Rethink Zero-Covid or Just Keep Fudging the Numbers?
Sorry, guys, but this won’t keep Omicron out. Photo: Paulo Marcelo Martins / Pexels

China’s long-delayed reckoning with covid, which was spawned in the teeming markets and byways of Wuhan–or hitched a ride with an accidentally infected lab worker on a shopping spree at the Huanan Seafood Market—appears to be, if not “raging” out of control, then probably “slipping” out of the control of China’s much-vaunted zero-covid policy.

Take China’s case count numbers as credible if you like, but ChinaDiction believes the numbers were not credible in Wuhan more than two years ago and they’re no more credible now,

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On Thursday, China reported its nationwide case count as 4,500. OK, that’s an increase of 1,000 from March 21, but what is it about China that reduces the transmission of this highly infectious virus to a trickle when it rampages through everywhere else it touches shore?

It has to be the wisdom of the Chinese central government policy of zero-covid. As a point of pride that’s a serious issue in China, where pride takes precedence over practicalities.

But there’s more to it than that. As Deutsche Welle (DW) notes:

Although Chinese authorities have freed up large medical resources for more efficient use in fighting coronavirus, [Xi] Chen, [an associate professor of health policy and economics at the Yale School of Public Health] said the Chinese public and authorities are not ‘mentally and psychologically prepared for major changes’ in their response to the pandemic.  . 

Klaus Zenkel, chair of the south China chapter of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, told CNBC:

‘If you compare this lockdown for the seven days last week, 14 to 21 of March, it was almost tougher than two years ago when the pandemic started,’ he said, referring to the tighter government restrictions on international travel and stay-home policies.

It’s a situation that can only get worse unless China can do something nowhere else in the world has been able to. Drive this latest variant of covid out of China through sheer, authoritarian force of will, just as it did when the virus broke out more than two years ago.

Taiwan Intelligence Quells Rumors of Autumn Invasion
Taiwanese snipers in training. Photo: Wiki Commons

The director general of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, Chen Ming-tong, on Thursday described rumors that Xi Jinping was planning an invasion of Taiwan in Autumn as “highly unlikely,” the Taipei Times reports.

Chen’s statement was made in reaction to rumors that appear to have begun with a Newsweek report on an alleged leaked Russian intelligence document suggesting that Chinese President Xi Jinping was planning an invasion of Taiwan in the fall. The document is anonymous – it was written by someone who goes by the name of “Wind of Change,” who also claims to be with Russia’s Federal Security Service.

Chen called the media reports that ensued “cognitive warfare on Taiwan” without naming a source, and pointed out that China was holding its 20th Party Congress in which Xi is pitching a third term in the Autumn. Stability would be the order of the day during the congress, Chen noted, not military adventurism.

He also suggested that developments in Ukraine are probably giving a generally risk-averse Beijing pause for thought about invasions in general.

According to Chinese-language sources in Taiwan, Chen said that the National Security Bureau did not think that China would attempt an invasion while President Tsai Ing-wen was in power, implying that China was watching to see whether Taiwan’s democratic politics shifted to a more China-friendly government—which, frankly, is pie in the sky thinking, or more kindly, hopeful.

Chen also referred to Chinese state media discussion of enacting a “reunification law,” saying that it was also unlikely because it would actually force Beijing into a timetable, with all the international and domestic ramifications that would involve.

Notes the Taipei Times:

China has not officially proposed such legislation [a “reunification law”], which would be a follow-up to its passage of the Anti-Secession Law in 2005 giving Beijing the legal basis for military action should Taiwan secede or consider seceding from China.

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More Than a Million Containers Languish in China Amid Invasion of Ukraine
The world’s supply chain is off the rails. Photo: Unknown

The anticipated worsening of the world’s supply chain woes due to Russia invading Ukraine is here and with us. Bloomberg reports that more a million containers in China need to find alternatives to the 6,000-mile-plus railway to Western Europe.

With Moscow’s war raging in Ukraine, exporters and logistics firms transporting auto parts, cars, laptops and smartphones are now looking to avoid land routes passing through Russia or the combat zone. Security risks and payment hurdles stemming from sanctions are mounting, as is wariness that customers in Europe could boycott products that used Russian rail.

Air freight will undoubtedly come into play as a substitute for urgent supplies, but shipping is about a quarter of the price and has to continue to serve as the backbone for the global supply chain. Problem, as Bloomberg notes:

Any increase in traffic at ports couldn’t come at a worse time. A flare-up of coronavirus infections in China has prompted authorities to tighten controls, along with mass testing of workers and drivers. For instance, a long line of trucks was waiting to enter Shenzhen’s Yantian container port earlier this month, with shipping major Hapag-Lloyd AG estimating delays to at least 13 vessels.

“Closed highways, lockdowns in an increased number of Chinese cities, infections at an express service company, and government and public concerns about virus contaminated parcels have all delayed—and, in many places, disrupted—shipping within China, which will in turn affect the container shipping market,” Yuanxin Liao, an analyst at Control Risks, told Foreign Policy last week.

“Most companies simply have no way of knowing all the participants in their supply chain,” said Michael Essig, a professor of supply management at Bundeswehr University in Munich, in 2019. He added, “Let’s assume that a global company like Volkswagen has around 5,000 direct suppliers and that each has around 250 subcontractors. That means that the company has 1.25 million second-tier suppliers. With each additional step, the supply chain grows exponentially.” It’s hardly surprising that Gary Lowe, CEO of Thyssenkrupp Aerospace North America, told a supplier conference last month that “wherever I look in the supply chain, I see problems.”

There’s 7 billion people out there who need “stuff”. They also need the stuff to be affordable. We may be fast approaching the point at which manufacturers realize our global supply chains are far too vulnerable to the risks that lurk everywhere in an inherently volatile world. In fact, what the hell were we ever thinking, putting all our eggs in an exponentially growing complex system—so complex we don’t really understand how the thing works?

One China: Who Saved Lost-at-Sea Papuan Sailors? China or Taiwan?
A boat adrift … somewhere. Photo: Wiki Commons

Two Solomon’s stories in one newsletter!

Sun Xiao, an attache at the Chinese embassy in the Solomon Islands, said that at 3.30am on February 24, he received an urgent phone call from the captain of a fishing boat in seawaters southwest of the Solomon Islands, The Guardian reports.

‘Captain Li told the embassy that he was from Fujian Province of the People’s Republic of China. He and his crew had just rescued nine survivors from a raft drifting 29 days at sea.’

Sun alleged that Capt Li told embassy officials: ‘As a Chinese national, I appeal to the Chinese Embassy for assistance. I believe the Embassy will kindly help inform [Solomon Islands] and PNG governments to pick up those survivors and safely send them home.’ He also provided the embassy with the coordinates and radio frequency of his fishing boat.

The problem is that Taiwan says it’s a “blatant lie.” A Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said:

‘First of all, our office would like to point out that this is a rescue attempt successfully carried out primarily due to the joint efforts of a Taiwanese fishing vessel and Taiwan’s rescue authority.

‘Unlike what the Chinese Embassy in Honiara claimed, Yixiang No. 8, the fishing boat that saved the nine PNG nationals, is a registered Taiwanese fishing boat. And Taipei Rescue Coordination Center (TRCC), Taiwan’s National maritime search and rescue authority, was the authority that initially coordinated with its counterparts in both PNG and Solomon Islands in a timely manner and secured those nine lives eventually.”

An outraged Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, ‘“Obviously, China is preaching to the world its so-called ‘one China’ principle and taking advantage of Taiwan again.”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.