Asia Pacific Geopolitics – January 14, 2022

| January 14th, 2022

A fairly light end of the week, although there is some news worth mentioning. The first, and arguably the most important, is the 14th talks between China and India, with some posturing from the Indian side. Secondly there’s once again Covid in China, which has been impacting more and more cities (including Shanghai). Lastly, there is a sign of US weakness as China managed to pressure a Washington-based organisation to withdraw an invitation to Taiwan.

  1. CHINA

1.1 Winter chill brings promise of stability in China-India border dispute – SCMP

China and India have agreed to step back from confrontation over their disputed border during the freezing Himalayan winter.

In a joint statement, the PLA’s Western Theatre Command and the Indian Army said they would maintain stability in the western sector – scene of bloody clashes between the two sides in 2020 – and continue their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable resolution.

Both sides had a “frank and in-depth exchange of views” – diplomatic language which usually means a lot of disagreement and heated back-and-forth – according to the statement.

“The two sides also agreed to consolidate on the previous outcomes and take effective efforts to maintain security and stability on the ground in the western sector, including during winter,” it said.

“The two sides agreed to stay in close contact and maintain dialogue via military and diplomatic channels, and work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest.”

The meeting was held in Moldo, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, with Xinjiang military district commander Major General Yang Lin leading the People’s Liberation Army delegation. According to The Indian Express, his counterpart was Lieutenant-General Anindya Sengupta.

[…] It was an improvement on the last round of talks, which failed to result in a joint statement. Instead, China accused India of making unreasonable demands, while New Delhi said the stand-off was down to Beijing’s unilateral attempts to alter the status quo at the LAC.

Comment: Having a modicum of detente between Beijing and New Delhi is to be expected during the cold season, as the winter conditions in the Himalayas render any confrontation unappealing. However, the situation is far from being defused, as the Indian side aptly stated.

On January 12, the Indian Army Chief of Staff, General Naravane, said that the current situation in Ladakh is stable and there is hope that the border dispute will be resolved through dialogue. He then added that India would come victorious in case of conflict.

The Chinese responded to General Naravane with Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbing. He stated the following: ”We hope relevant people on the Indian side will refrain from making unconstructive remarks”

While conflict, for the time being, seems a remote prospect, it is a possibility, given how both sides are equipping their units along the border (about 50 to 60,000 per side). The size of the two forces is important, because the only conflict between the two (in 1962) happened due to a local superiority of Chinese forces (coupled with the fighting happening in October and November, with the cold season solidifying the Chinese gains). Still, it is something to watch out for, especially if China starts diverting water for its own use at the expense of India (and many other countries).

1.2 Chinese city of Zhuhai in coronavirus mass testing mode after Zhongshan reports case – SCMP

The southern Chinese city of Zhuhai reported one Covid-19 case on Friday, as citywide mass screening of its 2.4 million people got under way.

The case, a 53-year-old woman living in the township of Nanping, was detected in the testing and she was transferred to a designated hospital for treatment, Zhuhai health authorities said.

Authorities announced on Friday that all residents would be tested within the day at designated areas, advising the public to not leave Zhuhai unless absolutely necessary. Those who travel will need to show a negative nucleic test result taken within the previous 24 hours.

Previously, Zhuhai had announced mass screening for residents in three districts and ordered spas, cinemas, gyms and other commercial venues to close.

Comment: Covid is impacting an increasing amount of cities, which is worrying as is. The most worrying part, however, is the fact that the largest and most important cities in China also have registered cases. The latest is Shanghai, with 5 confirmed cases. The number may sound low, and for all intents and purposes it is, but it may trigger mass testing across its population.

In response, Shanghai’s tourism and culture authority said travel agencies and online tourism companies must once again halt organising group tours between Shanghai and other provinces, regions or municipalities.

In this particular case, reports state that the source is a person who flew from the US, and that would explain why the Chinese are cutting flights substantially (with extreme cases like sending back planes already in flight).

All this will not discourage the authorities away from their Zero Covid Policy, on the contrary they will probably try to redouble their efforts (and further isolate Beijing, assuming such a thing is even possible at this point).

The mainland is not the only one facing severe disruptions, as Hong Kong too is facing them. The latest news in this regard is a ban on transit flights from about 150 countries (out of 195). Under the new flight rules, transit passengers from China and Taiwan will still be allowed to pass through Hong Kong, but transit entries into the mainland are still banned.

The Hong Kong Airport Authority told Nikkei Asia in an email that the measures, set to run from Jan. 16 through Feb. 15, were launched “to control the spread of the highly infectious omicron variant of COVID-19 and further strengthen the protection of airport staff and other users.”

For all intents and purposes, Hong Kong cut itself off once again, placing Cathay Pacific under further pressure as their operations, already severely limited, will practically cease. The result will be a rise in logistic costs, with estimates ranging between 30 to 40% for the upcoming weeks and potentially lasting for months (depending on how long the restrictions last).

1.3 Hong Kong police switch to goose-stepping ‘to show patriotism’

Hong Kong’s entire police force will switch from colonial-era British marching drills to the goose-stepping style seen on the Chinese mainland, the city’s force said on Friday (Jan 14), citing the need to show officers’ “patriotism”.

The stiff-legged marching technique was first publicly demonstrated by Hong Kong officers on Apr 15 during National Security Education Day – designated to mark a Beijing-imposed law that has empowered a crackdown on dissent.

The force has “actively planned for the full rollout of Chinese-style foot drills in order to show patriotism and foster love for our motherland and Hong Kong”, police told AFP in a statement on Friday.

Staff from China’s People’s Liberation Army barracks in Hong Kong have been teaching the city’s police officers the technique since February 2021.

Police have used goose-stepping in ceremonies and parades, but it will become part of officers’ daily routines from Jul 1 — the same day Hong Kong marks 25 years since the former British colony was handed back to China.

The Hong Kong Police College will also host workshops for frontline officers on goose-stepping and flag-raising in the second quarter of this year, according to the statement.

Comment: This news may seem trivial but it is much more than that. Symbolism is very important and such a change is more than simple aesthetics, as it makes the city’s police force very much an extension of the mainland. ‘Patriotism’ here equates to conformity with what is expected of a police force, namely loyalty to the CCP.

Goose-stepping and flag-raising are merely the flashiest, and latest, shows of loyalty, notwithstanding the removal of one of the last vestiges of British heritage. Eventually, all that the British left behind will be eliminated and replaced with the mainland counterpart, obviously in the name of patriotism.

1.4 Naval association rejects Taiwanese members after pressure from China – FT

China’s increasingly muscular efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally have paid off in Washington after a foreign naval association caved to Chinese pressure and reversed course on letting Taiwanese officers join the group.

Several people familiar with the dispute said the Washington-based Naval Attachés Association rescinded an invitation for Taiwan to join the organisation, which includes officers from US allies, after China strongly objected.

The US navy has banned officers from attending NAA events. Carlos Del Toro, navy secretary, last month said it did not support China’s “coercive tactics” and opposed efforts to “manipulate independent organisations”.

China often leans on governments, NGOs, companies, and the media to deny Taiwan’s sovereignty. But the NAA case was a rare example of it forcing a group in the US to sever ties with the island.

It also highlighted the difficulty Washington faces in trying to expand exchanges with Taiwan and normalise contacts with Taiwanese officials while the US and most powerful nations continue to deny Taipei diplomatic recognition.

“One of the core functions of China’s overseas representatives and agents is to marginalise and isolate Taiwan in every possible forum,” said Ivan Kanapathy, a Taiwan expert at Georgetown University. “This is usually done through political and economic co-option or coercion, often using opaque or even corrupt methods.”

Comment: Having China attempt to isolate Taiwan in every way they can is not surprising, after all they have been doing this since the UN shifted the recognition over to them. What is surprising, however, is seeing their efforts succeed in Washington, of all places. Moreover, Secretary Del Toro’s actions are mild, as he should arguably be the one running the show and gently point the door to the Chinese if Taiwan’s presence offends them. After all, even though the Chinese Navy is getting larger and more capable, the US Navy should have enough gravitas to dictate terms in their own home.