Four key topics have emerged in recent news around China. Here’s what matters about its response to COVID-19, the global impact of its climate crises, ongoing tensions with Taiwan, and a recent report on its treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslim minorities.
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Between the press of American politics, the stresses of the Russian war, and various global energy and climate change crises, following China might not have been on the agenda. But this country of 1.4 billion people had a week of news worth watching. Let’s review the first four:
COVID lockdown (again) for 21 million
With only six hours warning, the southwestern city of Chengdu, with a population of 21 million, was placed under quarantine after 157 new COVID-19 infections were reported. This step was taken as part of China’s zero tolerance policy for the ongoing pandemic, which in the United States killed 14,297 people in August: half of China’s global total for the whole pandemic. The latest lockdown measure, which only allows one person per household outside for groceries if they haven’t tested positive in the past 24 hours, is following on the heels similar across China this summer.
But the world has expressed concern on the impact of China’s zero COVID policy, especially in manufacturing centers linked to foreign joint ventures. It remains to be seen whether the blow to semiconductor supply chains will be a clear victory for the United States, which has engaged in an economic war with China over related industries.
Extreme drought and its energy consequences
While drought and wildfires are familiar sights this summer, even as Pakistan experiences devastating floods, China’s extreme weather is notable in part for its tight control of human impact data, which are just beginning to emerge.
When an intense heat wave dried up the Yangtze River, it also depleted hydroelectric capacity. In Sichuan, one of the provinces most affected during these months of extreme weather, hydroelectric operations are at 20% of average capacity, which affects not only households but also manufacturing sectors, including for raw materials such as lithium and polysilicon. Ironically, these are key ingredients for many green technologies that could aid global adaptation to climate change, as the country went back to coal to meet last month’s energy demands.
Taiwan and the Chinese drone
On Thursday, the Taiwanese army reported to have shot down a civilian drone, after warning that it would escalate into live ammunition against increased drone activity. China has increased its military presence, especially around the Kinmen and Matsu islands, and even civilian gear is seen as part of the “grey zone” military tactics. world watchers to anticipate that these chains of bordering islands will be the first sites of direct confrontations. At this time, it is difficult to determine the impact of Chinese encroachment (civilian or otherwise) and increased Taiwanese response.
Chinese planes are not allowed over Kinmen, which Taiwan has controlled since 1949, but Taiwanese officials insist on a policy of countermeasures, not direct aggression. Nevertheless, after a controversial visit Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, China has stepped up military activity and downplayed talk of a non-military solution to its efforts to “unify” with Taiwan, a self-governing democracy. Taiwanese social media responded with calls for a stronger local response.
UN human rights report
On August 31, the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) released a long-awaited report on human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The report acknowledges the use of torture against Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslim minorities, as well as a process of admission to “retraining” camps that amounts to arbitrary detention. The enumeration of these and other human rights violations, which include forced labor, missing persons and targeted sexual violence, concludes with a list of recommendations for the Chinese government, various action groups of the United Nations and in particular the international business community.
The publication of this document was not easy. When United Nations High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet returned from the first such visit to China in two decades, her first comments were diplomaticafter a trip during which it was limited in access. Subsequently, Chinese officials lobbied to prevent the publication of a more comprehensive investigative analysis.
As with concerns about Chinese policy on global health, agriculture, climate change and foreign security, the struggle to address human rights concerns in the region rests largely on the possession and the pursuit of better information.