Cotton knots; Olympic rows; Wolf Warrior Winner

Gogi Kamushadze

Hello, and welcome to China Influence Monitor, a weekly newsletter published by CEPA and Coda Story and edited by me, Edward Lucas. We track the westward footprint of China’s influence operations, and their effects on politics, economies, societies and alliances across Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia and Europe.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Clouds are gathering over the Beijing Winter Olympics, now only ten months away. Though the IOC stubbornly maintains its eyes-shut policy, hopes of a trouble-free sportwash are evaporating. The authorities will struggle to stop athletes from signaling their views, while foreign dignitaries can be conspicuous by their absence. Activists are asking sponsors such as Airbnb to withdraw. Profiting from sports tourism while collaborating with China’s racist travel bans on Tibetans and Uyghurs looks bad. Because it is.

A fifth of the world’s cotton-garment production includes yarn or fabric from Xinjiang (the Chinese name for the Uyghur homeland), with itchy ties to forced labor, genocide and mass incarceration in mind-control camps. Western human-rights standards mean scratching such products from your supply chain. But if you admit taking that step, the Chinese authorities punish you. 

Adidas, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Converse, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger and Nike are among the Western brands hit lately by state-led consumer boycotts and other reprisals. “Pure and flawless Xinjiang cotton cannot allow any forces to smear or blacken it,” rhapsodized a Commerce Ministry spokesman. But the party-state won’t chuck out every foreign firm: the more they resist, the less intimidation works. 

It can be done: Finland’s Stora Enso abruptly stopped exports of dissolved chemical wood pulp to viscose factories near the Uyghur forced-labour camps, after the South China Morning Post revealed its role as the industry’s biggest supplier of the product. 

We’ll keep you updated on China’s Olympic woes.

PLAGUED BY THE TRUTH

Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea, Slovenia and the UK joined the United States in criticizing the WHO’s investigation (read: whitewash) of the Chinese origins of the covid-19 pandemic. 

But big continental European countries like France, Germany, Italy and Poland were no-shows. So was normally hawkish Sweden. 

The most troubling absentee is New Zealand, which is increasingly squishy in its approach to China. The other members of the Five-Eyes grouping are the nucleus of the global coalition against the party-state’s sharp-power offensive.

Elsewhere on the diplomatic front:

  • A Dutch frigate is heading for the South China Sea as part of the British-led carrier strike group. 
  • China’s defense minister toured Hungary, Serbia, North Macedonia and Greece. “If they can come to the South China Sea, we can also go to the Mediterranean,” says an analyst quoted in Global Times.
  • Iran and China signed a 25-year strategic partnership deal. Details are hazy.
  • Norway has signed up to the EU sanctions announced last month. The big question is whether Japan will join too. 
  • The US is changing its rules about meeting Taiwanese officials. NASA’s website dropdown menu lists Taiwan as a country. “Unforgivable,” says People’s Daily. Get used to it, comrades, there’s more to come.

WOLF WARRIOR WATCH

This week’s obnoxious-diplomacy award goes to Li Yang, the consul-general in Rio, for tweeting this about Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau: 

“Boy, your greatest achievement is to have ruined the friendly relations between China and Canada, and have turned Canada into a running dog of the US.”

Why this is the job of a Brazil-based diplomat we don’t know.

MEDIA FREEDOM

The hard-hitting BBC Beijing correspondent John Sudworth, and his wife, Irish broadcaster RTE’s Yvonne Murray, have had to move to Taiwan after sustained official harassment: part of a larger pattern, says the Foreign Correspondents Club, which counted 18 expulsions last year. 

Murray’s departure prompted a series of sneering tweets from the Chinese embassy in Dublin, culminating in this baffling one: “The wolf is the wolf, not the lamb. BTW, China is not a lamb”.  It would be a contender for the Wolf Warrior award, if we could understand it. 

Meanwhile, the BBC’s been investigating threats to Uyghur exiles in Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Turkey, the UK and the US. 

Where it can, the Chinese party-state demands not just neutrality, but public loyalty. In Macau, journalists at TDM, the former Portuguese colony’s supposedly independent public broadcaster, have been peremptorily ordered to ”promote patriotism, respect and love the motherland” and withhold “information or opinion contrary to the policies of the Central Government of the PRC”. That prompted the first squawk of protest from the government in Lisbon since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1999.

What we’re reading: 

  • Central Asia: Gül Berna Özcan on how Chinese influence stokes crony capitalism. 
  • China: a former party insider explains how “brutality and ruthlessness” stoked her disillusion.
  • Disinformation: A sizzling new ASPI report on how Chinese propagandists use fringe anti-establishment websites and mainstream social media platforms. Also: self-professed anti-imperialists are strangely unwilling to acknowledge China’s human rights abuses.
  • Germany: Andreas Fulda rips apart a “let’s have dialog” dirge by China-watching bigwig Eberhard Sandschneider. It exemplifies how business interests have hijacked German policy, he says. 
  • Latvia: China’s agents of influence get an easy ride, unlike in neighboring Estonia. This polemic asks why.  
  • Taiwan: a retired CIA China expert argues against regarding the island state as an “embattled, doughty democracy.” If Taiwanese don’t see it that way, neither should we.  
  • UK: Charles Parton, once a top government China-watcher, on what the CCP actually wants from Britain. Key point: China’s bark is worse than its bite. 
     

What you might want to watch: I’ve moderated five China-related CEPA panels in recent days. Details here.

Thanks to Makuna Berkatsashvili, Isobel Cockerell, Oleksandr Ignatenko, Mariam Kiparoidze and Mariia Pankova of Coda Story, and to Michael Newton at CEPA.

We’ll be back in your inboxes next week.

Best regards 
Edward

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Edward Lucas

Edward Lucas is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He was formerly a senior editor at The Economist. Lucas has covered Central and Eastern European affairs since 1986, writing, broadcasting, and speaking on the politics, economics, and security of the region.

A graduate of the London School of Economics and long-serving foreign correspondent in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, and the Baltic states, he is an internationally recognized expert on espionage, subversion, the use and abuse of history, energy security and information warfare.

He is the author of four books: The New Cold War (2008, newly revised and republished); Deception (2011); The Snowden Operation (2014), and Cyberphobia (2015).

@edwardlucas