China bytes back after Biden confirms tech funding ban 

Limits on American investment in the world’s second-largest economy trigger Beijing backlash

Welcome to the 13th edition of Between The Lines. This week we look at the latest salvo from Washington in the high-tech showdown with China as Beijing bytes back. Also, we focus on diplomatic waves in the South China Sea and painting up a graffiti storm. Let’s get started.

It was not exactly a Big Bang moment. More like a shriek in the cacophony of noise that has accompanied the tech war between China and the United States.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden imposed limits on American investment in the world’s second-largest economy. It came amid fears that state-of-the-art technology could be used in China’s next-generation military hardware, threatening US national security.

The White House’s main target was Chinese funding for computer chips or semiconductors. Reaction to the news was mixed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer embraced Biden’s blueprint:

For too long, American money has helped fuel the Chinese military’s rise. Today the United States is taking a strategic first step to ensure American investment does not go to fund Chinese military advancement. 

Republican Senator Marco Rubio was not so kind, describing the move as “almost laughable” in a Reuters news agency report.

Important technologies

“It is riddled with loopholes, explicitly ignores the dual-use nature of important technologies, and fails to include industries China’s government deems critical,” he said.

As for Beijing, it was simply furious. An editorial published today in the Chinese state-run Global Times summed up the mood:

These ‘unprecedented rules limiting American investments in China’ raise a warning sign for more companies to not stand under the perilous wall of Washington … under its expanding concept of ‘national security’.

The last two words reek of hypocrisy since President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regime has used them to harass American and other foreign companies from operating in China. Or, forcing them to hand over technology and data.

Rusting relic of the Sierra Madre warship. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Beijing bullying creates diplomatic waves in Manila 

A rusting relic from World War II has become the latest flashpoint in Beijing’s coercive tactics in the South China Sea. The battered Sierra Madre warship with “a handful of troops” serves as a military outpost for the Philippines on the Second Thomas, or Ayungin, Shoal.

It is located inside the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. But China refuses to recognize that, despite Manila winning a ruling at a Hague Tribunal in 2016.

Xi’s government called it just a “piece of paper” while pushing its “historic claims” to the entire South China Sea. Still, the ruling has teeth in international law:

The tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within [China’s] ‘nine-dash line’.

Maritime superhighway

Since then, Beijing has bullied other nations and weaponized the South China Sea. Up to US$3 trillion of trade traverses through this maritime superhighway, making it a vital global lifeline. Looking back, the writing was on the wall in 2018. Cue The Economist:

Less than three years ago, Xi Jinping stood with Barack Obama in the Rose Garden at the White House and lied through his teeth. In response to mounting concern over China’s massive terraforming efforts in the South China Sea – satellite images showed seven artificial islands – [he] was all honey and balm.

“China absolutely did not, Mr Xi purred, ‘intend to pursue militarization’ on its islands. Its construction activities in the sea were not meant to ‘target or impact’ any country,” The Economist said.

Comrade Xi’s “Pinocchio” nose has only grown longer in the past five years while those islands now bristle with military installations and missiles aimed at their near neighbors.

The Great Wall of propaganda on London’s Brick Lane. Photo: Social media

Chinese propaganda and art clash in London graffiti row

Hu Xijin is now an esteemed columnist at the Global Times. One of the original pack members of “Wolf Warrior” politics, he was the former editor-in-chief of the state-run tabloid and feted by the Communist Party new wave.

Hardly surprising then, that earlier this week he would wade into the Brick Lane graffiti row in London. It was triggered after a group of mainland Chinese artists whitewashed over existing work and then painted 24 Chinese characters in red.

It stretched “nearly 100 meters” along a wall in the capital’s East End. The Guardian, a London-based newspaper, picked up the story:

Over the weekend, the Chinese government slogan promoting – ironically or not – the country’s ‘socialist core values’ was swiftly transformed into a forum scrutinizing Xi Jinping’s communist rule after garnering attention on social media.

“Within hours of appearing on Saturday, the slogan was overlaid with references to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and phrases ‘Free Taiwan’, ‘Free Tibet’ and ‘Free Uyghurs’. Online, it proved more divisive; criticized by rights groups and activists as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘Orwellian doublespeak propaganda’,” The Guardian reported.

Authoritarian regime

For Hu, the Western media simply missed the point as the “slogan” managed to dovetail democratic values in the West with “common human values” in China. It was the sort of contortion trick that has been the hallmark of his work. He wrote in the Global Times:

In theory, the 12 words representing the core socialist values could hold their ground in the Western world as well. Words such as democracy, freedom, rule of law, and patriotism are well-known worldwide, and they do not even belong to ‘politics’ but rather represent common human values. 

“If the mainstream population in the Western world does not harbor any particular bias, they should be able to maintain an open attitude toward China’s core socialist values,” Hu said.

Well, that is one viewpoint. Here is another. According to Freedom House’s annual global study of political rights and civil liberties, China is rated “Not Free.” The Washington-based non-profit organization reported:

China’s authoritarian regime has become increasingly repressive in recent years. The ruling Chinese Communist Party continues to tighten control over all aspects of life and governance, including the state bureaucracy, the media, online speech, religious practice, universities, businesses, and civil society associations. 

“Following a multi-year crackdown on political dissent, independent nongovernmental organizations, and human rights defenders, China’s civil society has been largely decimated,” Freedom House said.

Over to you, Hu.