1. A Great Wall for COVID?
The domestic COVID-19 threat has receded again over the past week.
Since last Monday, China reported:
- 16 new domestically transmitted confirmed cases, down from 56 in the previous 7-day period
- No new domestically transmitted asymptomatic cases, downfrom eight in the previous 7-day period
And there’s more good news: All but one of the 16 newly confirmed domestic cases were reported in Yunnan province.
- The lone exception was a case detected in Jiangsu.
More context: The Yunnan outbreak – a cluster of cases in Ruili, along China’s border with Myanmar – looks to have peaked.
Get smart: With the wider domestic outbreak successfully contained in spring 2020, China’s border cities and ports of entry have become the front lines of epidemic control efforts.
Get smarter: China has land borders of well over 20,000 km – most of which are remote and underdeveloped.
- There’s little in the way of medical infrastructure, let alone COVID monitoring and treatment facilities, along remote borders.
- The relatively low economic importance of these localities means officials may not prioritize them until an outbreak arises.
The bottom line: COVID cases are going to keep popping up along national borders from time to time, unless a new approach is taken.
2. The Great Uniter
On Friday, Xi Jinping addressed an “informal” meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders, hosted virtually from New Zealand. (But only his Filipino and Canadian counterparts didn’t wear ties – just, sayin’.)
Xi’s message: Unity is strength.
Xi said that as the world continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic – and its economic fallout – it’s time to come together (Xinhua):
- “We must remove barriers, not erect walls. We must open up, not close off. We must seek integration, not decoupling.”
To this end, Xi called on APEC economies to:
- Strengthen international cooperation on COVID-19 responses
- Deepen regional economic integration
- Seize opportunities from scientific and technological innovation
Xi also made a push for increased solidarity.
- Leading by example, Xi pledged USD 3 billion in international aid to help developing countries recover from the pandemic.
Global relations fun fact: The meeting was the first time Xi and US President Joe Biden appeared together (virtually) since the US climate summit in April.
Get smart: This speech highlights two major themes of Chinese diplomacy under Xi.
No. 1: China looks to build a powerful economic agenda-setting role in the Asia-Pacific.
No. 2: China increasingly positions itself as a counterweight to Western interests, and an advocate for the developing world.
3. The hits start comin’ and they don’t stop comin’
On Friday, the US Treasury Department sanctioned seven Hong Kong officials for their role in eroding the city’s democratic institutions.
- The unlucky bunch were all deputy directors of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government.
Some context: Office director Luo Huining, Beijing’s top official in the city, was sanctioned last August.
On the same day, the US Treasury, State, Commerce, and Homeland Security departments issued an advisory that warned US companies of the dangers of doing business in Hong Kong, due to:
- The National Security Law
- Warrantless electronic surveillance
- Association with US-sanctioned individuals or entities
- Retaliation by Chinese authorities against said sanctions
The foreign ministry was less than psyched: (MoFA):
- “The US has concocted the so-called ‘Hong Kong Business Advisory’ to groundlessly smear Hong Kong’s business environment, and illegally imposed sanctions on several officials of the Liaison Office.”
Ditto the Liaison Office itself (The Paper):
- “The so-called sanctions…will not change the Chinese government’s firm determination to safeguard its national sovereignty, security, and development interests.”
Get smart: Washington’s advisory is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- As the US continues to pressure China, and Beijing builds out its ability to respond to American sanctions, foreign companies will increasingly be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
4. Xi makes the rounds
On Friday, Xi Jinping was feeling chatty, calling not one, not two, but three foreign leaders.
We’ve compiled the quickest of quick hits below.
First up: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani
Xi (FMPRC 1):
- “China…hopes [the Afghan government and the Taliban] will reach an early political settlement through negotiation. China, as before, is willing to play a constructive role.”
- “[We] expect China to continue to play a key role in promoting a political settlement to the crisis in Afghanistan.”
Next in line: (brand new) Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh
Xi (FMPRC 2):
- “China is willing to import more Mongolian mineral and agricultural products.”
- “Mongolia is willing to…actively cooperate with China on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).”
Last but never least: Maldives Prez Ibrahim Solih
Xi (FMPRC 3):
- “China is willing to continue cooperating with the Maldives on the BRI.”
- “The Maldives is willing to…actively cooperate with China on the BRI.”
Get smart: Not much to see here. But never underestimate the importance of the BRI for Beijing.
- China wields a great – and growing – degree of influence in these three countries.
But we do have one question: What exactly will China’s “constructive role” in the Afghanistan political process look like?
5. Didi, party of seven
The fun never stops for troubled ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing.
On Friday, the Cybersecurity Administration of China (CAC) set up shop at Didi’s Beijing offices to begin the cybersecurity review process.
Some context: Didi is under intense scrutiny after its hasty US IPO aroused the ire of Chinese regulators.
- Within days of Didi’s listing, the company was ordered to undergo a cybersecurity review.
- New user registrations are frozen for the duration of the review.
It’s a party: The CAC rocked up with six friends in tow:
- Ministry of Public Security (MPS)
- Ministry of National Security (MSS)
- Ministry of Transportation (MOT)
- State Administration of Market Regulation (SAMR)
- Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)
- State Taxation Administration (STA)
Some of those regulators weren’t supposed to be on the guest list:
- The MNR and STA aren’t among the cybersecurity review office’s 13 member ministries.
So why are they participating?
The MNR’s involvement is likely related to electronic mapping data that Didi collects.
- Recent draft data security regulations for the automotive industry suggest Beijing is increasingly concerned about the national security implications of mapping data.
It’s more difficult to guess what the tax authorities are doing there.
But one thing is for sure: These guys aren’t getting off Didi’s couch anytime soon.
- Cybersecurity reviews reportedly last 45 days.
Get smart: The review procedures are only a year old – regulators are still figuring out who is responsible for what.
- In the meantime, there are a whole lot of cooks in the cybersecurity kitchen.