Welcome to the third edition of Between The Lines. This week we look at President Xi Jinping’s obsession with national security. Or, maybe just his obsession with power? China’s new Covid wave and Chinese maritime grave robbers have also dominated the headlines.
Here we go.
Chairman of Everything Xi Jinping is a control freak. Even his gang of Xicophants would probably vouch for that if they were allowed to voice their true opinions. So, it is hardly surprising that national security is at the heart of his domestic and foreign policies.
After all, this is not just about sweeping the political dirt under the red carpet but burying it in the basement of the Great Hall of the People.
On Monday, Comrade Xi rambled on about his favorite subject at the first meeting of the Communist Party’s Central National Security Commission since October.
He talked about the “complexity and enormity of the national security issues” China is facing and concluded that they have “significantly increased.”
Research group Trivium China captured the mood perfectly:
Xi Jinping is back hammering the importance of national security. Economic and social policy will increasingly be shaped by the overriding prerogative of safeguarding China’s security.
“As the line between national security and economic policy blurs, regulatory shifts may be driven as much by security considerations as economic ones.”
In short, that means Xi is further tightening his grip on the world’s most dangerous autocracy.
China accuses the US of being a ‘peeping Tom’
Beijing has branded Washington a “peeping Tom” after a Chinese fighter jet intercepted an American surveillance plane over the South China Sea last week.
The row erupted when the United States Indo-Pacific Command accused a Chinese J-16 pilot of conducting an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver,” forcing the American RC-135 aircraft into a wave of turbulence.
Global Times, the pitbull of Chinese state-run media, spearheaded Beijing’s war of words in an editorial on May 31:
China will not tolerate such rogue behavior. Since there is no way to call the police, we can only enhance self-defense capabilities, and intercept and expel intruders.
“To deal with a peeping Tom who crosses the line, we must pick up a stick and drive him away. It is necessary to make him feel insecure and scared.”
The incident happened in international airspace and follows repeated requests from Washington to discuss “security” issues. Beijing has rejected American overtures.
Covid cases could balloon to 65 million a week
China faces a new Covid wave which could peak at 65 million cases a week by the end of June. The warning came from Zhong Nanshan, a leading respiratory disease expert.
He highlighted the looming crisis at the Greater Bay Area Science Forum in Guangzhou last week after releasing his “modeling data.”
“For the second wave since April, Zhong’s modeling revealed that the [Covid] XBB variant is expected to cause 40 million infections weekly by May, going up to 65 million in June,” TIME reported online, adding:
This goes against the grain of Chinese estimates that the wave had peaked in April. In Beijing, the number of new infections recorded between May 15 and 21 grew four times in four weeks.
Zhong’s comments came just days before the former head of China’s Center for Disease Control refused to rule out of the possibility that the Covid virus leaked from a high-security Wuhan laboratory.
George Fu Gao, who is now the president of China’s International Institute of Vaccine Innovation after retiring from the CDC last year, told the BBC in an interview:
You can always suspect anything. That’s science. Don’t rule out anything.
Wuhan became the epicenter of the Covid epidemic in 2019 before it spread across China and the rest of the world.
Since then, at least 740 million people have been infected with the death toll reaching nearly seven million during the three-year pandemic, according to the World Health Organization.
Chinese grave robbers plunder the Prince of Wales
She was the pride of the British Royal Navy and took on the mighty German battleship Bismark in 1940 before serving in the Mediterranean a year later during World War II.
HMS Prince of Wales also ferried British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to his rendezvous in 1941 with President Franklin D Roosevelt at Placentia Bay in Newfoundland.
Sunk by Japanese torpedoes just months later, she lies in 223 feet (68 meters) of water off the Malaysian coast near Kuantan with the remains of many of her 800-plus crew.
The wreck of her escort HMS Repulse lies next to the Prince of Wales in what was one of the worst disasters in British naval history. Until now.
This week it emerged that Chinese maritime grave robbers were stripping the wrecks of scrap steel, aluminum and brass fittings in illegal salvage operations.
Dominic Tweddle, the director general of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, set the tone:
Ours is the leading voice for the heritage of the Royal Navy. Core to our mission is to memorialize and remember the role that men and women fulfilled in serving their country.
“We are distressed and concerned at the apparent vandalism for profit of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse. They are designated war graves. We are upset at the loss of naval heritage and the impact this has on the understanding of our Royal Navy history.”
In response, Beijing has been as eerily silent as these deep water tombs to the fallen.