China’s poverty-busting policy goes global; Europe holds the line against Huawei

Edward Lucas


Story list

China is stepping up efforts to promote and spread its poverty alleviation policy abroad. 

Lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty is the party-state’s strongest claim to legitimacy — and has drawn plaudits from outsiders. But it also involves erasure of minority cultures (especially Tibetan and Uyghur), forced labor and political indoctrination (see this critique from the Economist.)

Three international publishing houses have signed contracts to translate and publish eight books hailing the merits of the scheme. Uzbekistan’s government (which also backs China’s Chinese Covid vaccine) announced it would begin a China-funded research project to see how it could implement a similar anti-poverty approach. CGTN recently highlighted “lessons for Africa” in the Chinese scheme.

Why it matters: Poverty-busting could be the next big element in Chinese economic diplomacy, especially as infrastructure efforts and technology exports run into difficulty (see next items).

Talking point It’s interesting that foreign publishers don’t see any problem with recycling Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Other publishers (like this German one, suddenly told to rewrite the plot of a children’s book) are not so happy. 

Roads to nowhere

The China State Construction Engineering Corporation is in trouble in Poland. It submitted seven road-building bids, but officials there doubt whether the Chinese giant (which was on a World Bank corruption blacklist until 2015) has the capacity to build the projects, and are fighting a legal battle to exclude it.

Talking point: The Chinese company’s arrogance (lack of a Polish website, office or point of contact in the country) hasn’t helped its case. 

Hold the line 

Sweden’s 5G ban has prompted threats to Swedish companies operating in China, while Huawei claims Poland and Romania are breaching EU law. 

American efforts to keep the well-connected Chinese telecoms giant out of European networks are now focusing on the Balkans, where Chinese influence is ebbing, even in once-friendly Serbia. Greece has pledged to join the US-led “clean network”, excluding Chinese-made 5G equipment. 

Background: In September the US-educated prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hosted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his family home in Crete. Hospitality pays off: one of the US Navy’s largest and most modern warships, the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, will be based at Souda Bay, the island’s naval port.

Why it matters: Greece used to be a notable Chinese ally, playing a leading role in blocking any signs of EU hawkishness, not least on human rights. Not any more.  

Wolf warriors

This week’s award for diplomatic snarling goes to the comrades at the Chinese mission in Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, included a Taiwanese flag in a tweet thanking international medical aid donors. A sharp complaint ensured the removal of this horrific breach of the one-China taboo.. 

Cue the usual disinhibited gloating from the Global Times. Top phrase concerned Taiwan’s  “fragile self-esteem” and “chaotic division about … national identity”. That’ll teach them.

But on other fronts the deluded secessionist jackals (that’s “Free China” if you grew up in the Cold War) are doing rather well. 

  • The World Health Organization, normally spineless on the Taiwan issue, explicitly praised the offshore Chinese democracy’s performance on covid, elegantly calling it an “east Asian economy”. 
  • The International Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) is backing the campaign for Taiwanese participation in the WHO
  • British MPs have invited foreign minister Joseph Wu to address them. 

In the shadows

Meanwhile an official (presumably an American) has briefed Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper, about the increasing China focus of the Five Eyes network (the UK and US, plus Australia, Canada, and New Zealand). 

The Five Eyes grouping — the anglosphere victors in World War Two — used to deal solely with intelligence-sharing. Now it’s the basis for a global coalition of countries worried about political and economic warfare from China (and Russia). None of these efforts are avowed. Yet. 

What we’re reading 

Top British China-watcher Charles Parton’s blistering new report has three takeaways. The UK must: 

  • Recognize a values divergence with China
  • Have a foreign interference watchdog and tighter rules on political lobbying
  • Take a clear stance on Taiwan

And this from ChinaFile by Jessica Batke and the great Mareike Ohlberg (who’s also the co-author of Hidden Hand) on what analysis of procurement contracts reveals about the party-state’s surveillance system. 

What we’re watching: A British parliamentary committee inquiry into Uyghur slave labor quizzes business chiefs — Thursday at 10:30 UK time 

Germany’s defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer keeps banging the drum for international cooperation against China — this time in a joint appearance with her Australian counterpart, also Thursday.  

That’s it for this week. We will be back in your inboxes next Thursday. Please tell your friends about China Influence Monitor and encourage them to subscribe. 

Best Regards,

Edward Lucas