Take-aways from Xi-Macron phone call; Beijing strikes back against U.S. sanctions on "national leaders"
Privacy protection given a leg-up by state apparatus in times of COVID; Survey of British businesses in China
1. Beijing’s readout from the Wednesday phone call between Presidents Xi and Macron is unusually detailed; the two sides reached a consensus on increasing exchanges via Olympics, so no boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 from Paris; Beijing champions European autonomy; etc.
2. U.S. sanctions on Vice Chairpersons of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, “creating an extremely bad precedent” because Vice Chairpersons are “national leaders”, is met with counter-sanctions.
3. The Chinese state apparatus is going hard on unauthorized leaks of personal information of a confirmed coronavirus patient in Chengdu, after Internet users obsess themselves with the lady’s detailed whereabouts, including three bar visits in one night.
4. 44% of British companies in China plan to increase investment in China despite COVID-19; British complaints include cybersecurity & IT restriction, competition with Chinese counterparts; foreign investment law didn’t help much; intellectual property rights now far from a top complaint.
Both Beijing and Paris have issued their readouts of the Wednesday phone call between Presidents Xi and Macron, in their respective languages. Here is an English-language translation via Xinhua of Beijing’s readout.
A. Beijing’s readout is unusually lengthy and specific, listing eight points of "important consensus” reached by the two heads of state: one by one, in number one to eight. It also says they "instructed relevant departments of the two countries to step up implementation in” them. The clarity and details are rare, compared with similar readouts in the past - even Mars exploration and Antarctic marine protection made it into the readout.
B. The 5th consensus might sound diplomatic on the surface, but quite significant given the growing - however faint it remains - calls in some quarters to boycott the Winter Olympic Games Beijing 2022. It could be seen as a diplomatic coup for Beijing, which might entail a forestallment of any boycott from the French government.
Taking the opportunity of the Winter Olympic Games Beijing 2022 and the Olympic Games Paris 2024 to increase Olympic and people-to-people exchanges and cooperation, so as to strengthen mutual understanding and friendship.
C. Xi is quoted in Beijing’s readout calling 独立自主 as among the original aspiration of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France. The Chinese word’s literal translation is "independent autonomy”, just one word away from "strategic autonomy”, the latest catchphrase in the EU since the von der Leyen administration took over in December 2019.
It’s worth mentioning that in recent months, Beijing has been repeatedly applauding European 战略自主, literally translated as "strategic autonomy”. That happened in State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s phone call with HRVP Josep Borrell, Wang’s phone call with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Wang’s in-person meeting with Macron, etc.
The obvious backdrop is Joe Biden entering the White House in a little over a month and possibly opening a new chapter for the transatlantic relationship. Will, or to what extent will, Europe charter its own course in not only Europe-China relations, but in other multilateral frameworks such as Paris Accord, the JCPOA, and the WTO?
D. The biggest single issue currently on the table between the EU and China is the China-EU investment agreement. Xi is quoted in Beijing’s readout as calling for 加快完成中欧投资协定谈判 speed up finalizing the negotiations. Last but not the least, and self-explanatory, Xi hopes that the European side will implement a positive policy towards China.
China announced counter-sanctions against U.S. personnel Thursday, per Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Hua Chunying:
The sanctions target “some U.S. administration officials and congressional and NGO staff who have behaved badly and borne major responsibilities over Hong Kong-related issues, and on their immediate family members as well”.
Details are not immediately available.
And for those of you holding U.S. diplomatic passports, a visa is now needed to travel to Hong Kong and Macao.
The measures are in retaliation for U.S. sanctions against 14 Vice Chairpersons of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, China’s national legislature announced on Dec. 7.
The move effectively ended lively speculations among some circles whom Beijing sees in Washington as equals to NPC Standing Committee Vice Chairpersons.
Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times who’s always quick to respond, offered his insight in a brief Chinese video Wednesday
Objectively speaking, these sanctions will have no practical impact on those Vice Chairpersons’ fulfilling of their jobs or personal lives. But Vice Chairpersons are among China's national leaders. The latest U.S. sanctions set an extremely bad precedent. They do not even look like the governments of major powers in the 21st century. They are undermining the basic norms of international relations and the bottom line of civilized interactions among major powers.
Personal privacy needs to be protected, full stop. That’s the message Chinese state media sent out Wednesday after a young female who was infected with SARS-COV-2 became the victim of vicious cyberbullying.
Xinhua’s commentary said it was “heart-wrenching” that the victim’s private information was leaked.
“Aside from concerned authorities which may release information necessary for combating pandemic, no others have this right. Malicious offense to privacy amounts to a crime.”
Peng Qinghua, Party secretary of Sichuan Province, also stressed in remarks to Chengdu officials Wednesday that “privacy of those infected needs to be protected” and “cyberbullying needs to be forcefully stopped”.
On the same day, a 24-year-old male surnamed Wang was arrested by Chengdu Police for leaking the victim's private information. According to a news report, Wang admitted to wrongdoing and was punished in accordance with unspecified administrative penalties, usually a few days’ detention but not criminal prosecution.
The report did not reveal in what capacity Wang obtained the victim’s information.
This is by no means the first privacy leak in China’s battle against COVID-19 where travel information in contact tracing is key, but this is perhaps the strongest rebuke from the Chinese state apparatus to date.
It’s also sad to see quite some Internet users were obsessed with the female victim’s visiting three bars in one night, exhibiting brazen misogynism. They need to get a grip and mind their own businesses.
Your Pekingnologists went to the British Chamber of Commerce in China preview of British Business in China: Sentiment Survey on Wednesday which collates the views of over 250 British businesses representing over £20 billion of revenue in China. Here is the press release and here is the full report.
a few take-aways:
A. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc everywhere (and yes China has done better than others to bring it under control), it’s a bit surprising to see a plurality of British companies in China (44%) will nonetheless be increasing investment in 2021.
B. The top three regulatory barriers remain the same as last year: 1) Navigating cybersecurity and IT restrictions. 2) Accessing or moving company finances. 3) Competition with SOEs or state-sponsored competition.
The host at the scene, upon further inquiry, clarified that the No.1 barrier mainly concerns impeded Internet access.
Also worth mentioning is intellectual property rights concerns are way down in the rank of complaints, ranking No.11 now.
C. Nearly half of all businesses face market access barriers in their sector and only 16% have seen a positive impact from the Foreign Investment Law. One in four British companies believes that they are treated unfavorably compared to private Chinese companies, which rises to one in three compared to SOEs.
This newsletter is penned by Zichen Wang, the founder of Pekingnology, and Yang Liu, a regular contributor.