China Reform Monitor No. 1411

Related Categories: Democracy and Governance; Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues; China; Southeast Asia; Taiwan

Amid the rapidly deteriorating U.S.-China relationship, U.S. Navy sailors from the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and guided-missile cruiser Bunker Hill enjoyed a goodwill visit to Da Nang, Vietnam, which included sports competitions and community service. The show of solidarity was designed to commemorate 25 years of improving U.S.-Vietnam relations. Strike group commander Rear Admiral Stu Baker said: "This visit demonstrates the strength of our bilateral relations and highlights our continued cooperation with partner countries and our strong support for the region, including institutions such as ASEAN, of which Vietnam is this year's chair. It also serves as evidence of the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific where strong, independent nations respect one another's sovereignty, and uphold the rule of law." Two years earlier, the Carl Vinson became the first U.S. aircraft carrier to visit Vietnam in four decades. (Navy Times, March 6, 2020)

The Kuomintang party (KMT) is set to discard the "1992 consensus;" the policy formulation that Beijing holds as a precondition for cross-Strait dialogue. Both candidates for the party chairmanship agreed that the "1992 consensus" no longer serves its purpose. But because Beijing has said it will not engage with any administration in Taipei – including that of current President Tsai Ing-wen – which does not commit to the 1992 consensus, the KMT's rejection of the phrase is a major test for the CPC's Taiwan strategy. Senior KMT leaders blame CPC Chairman Xi Jinping for destroying the "1992 consensus" last year when he said the concept was tantamount to the "One Country, Two Systems," model, which Beijing uses to rule Hong Kong but which is a nonstarter for Taiwan's voters. (Financial Times, March 6, 2020)

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Until recently, the phrase (which refers to an agreement between semi-official envoys from Beijing and Taipei in 1992) connoted that Taiwan is part of "One China," but allowed each side its own interpretation. For Taipei, "One China" meant the Republic of China, while for Beijing it meant the PRC. Under Taiwan's former KMT President, Ma Ying-jeou, who held power from 2008-2012, this ambiguity allowed Taiwan and China to build economic and social links while sidestepping delicate sovereignty questions. That, however, no longer seems possible. "Without ‘respective interpretations,' there is no ‘92 consensus,'" Hao Lung-pin, former Taipei mayor and KMT vice-chairman, has said.]

As China's efforts to cover up the coronavirus outbreak have emerged, Chairman Xi Jinping has been criticized by several prominent intellectuals. Xu Zhangrun, a law professor in Beijing, published an essay last month saying that the epidemic had "revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance." Xu Zhiyong, a legal activist, was detained after he penned a letter to Xi on social media, accusing him of a cover-up and calling on him to step down. Most recently, Ren Zhiqiang, an outspoken property tycoon in Beijing, vanished after his latest essay blamed the outbreak on the efforts of officials to conceal it by limiting free speech and silencing whistle-blowers. In 2016, the CPC placed Ren, a party member, on probation for a year after he denounced Xi's propaganda policies. Since then he has been under surveillance, prevented from leaving the country, and has had his social media accounts deleted. (New York Times, March 14, 2020)

China's drastic measures over the last two months to address the coronavirus outbreak have improved air quality to the extent that they spared between 50,000 and 75,000 people from dying prematurely, including between 1,400 and 4,000 children under the age of five, and 51,700 to 73,000 adults over 70 in China. "The reductions in air pollution in China caused by this economic disruption likely saved twenty times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus in that country," Marshall Burke at Stanford University has estimated. According to China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the average number of "good quality air days" in Hubei, the epicenter of the pandemic, increased 21.5% in February, compared to the same period last year. (CNN, March 17, 2020)

At 9 am on March 16, on the median line in the Taiwan Strait, patrol cutters from the Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration (CGA) 9th Kinmen Offshore Flotilla along with three Taiwanese fishing boats were driving off Chinese fishermen and removing their nets, when more than 10 unmarked speedboats attacked them with rocks and beer bottles and then rammed their vessels. The CP-1022 patrol cutter, which began active duty just three days earlier, had two of its three outboard motors damaged when the speedboats rammed it from behind. The CGA officers responded with stun grenades and fired bean bag rounds at the Chinese crews, prompting them to retreat. "We've never seen more than 10 Chinese speedboats swarm and aggressively attack like this," said one CGA officer. (Taiwan News, March 20, 2020)