Knotted Cotton; Wolf Warrior Award; Tantrums in Turkey

China Influence Monitor
China Influence Monitor

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.

In this issue: Who owns Huawei?; Charm offensive in Canada; Forced confessions.

WATER TORTURE

Tensions ran dry at the Chinese embassy in Ankara this week after Turkey rebuked the Chinese ambassador, Liu Shaobin, for a tweet condemning two opposition politicians. They had spoken out on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. Then the embassy’s water supply was temporarily cut off — routine maintenance says the municipality, “a huge message to China'' according to local journalist Ibrahim Haskoloğlu. Cüneyt Öztürk, a board member at Ankara’s water utility, tweeted mockingly about the embassy’s water bill. The whole thing never happened, say Chinese state media.

China’s already fuming about the failed extradition of the Turkey-based Uyghur activist Abudukadir Yapuquan. An extradition treaty is awaiting parliamentary ratification on Turkey’s side: the big Uyghur diaspora in Turkey, often seen protesting outside Chinese diplomatic buildings, is worried that Turkey will “trade the Uyghur people” for economic ties, says Burhan Uluyol, a campaigner.

Meanwhile, China’s offering to build a huge new $9 billion canal parallel to the Bosporus. What that means for the embassy’s water supply is another story.

BUSINESS NEWS

Who owns Huawei? Employees, insists the telecoms giant. The Chinese authorities, many suspect. Slovak researcher Matej Šimalčík reckons the latest European anti-money-laundering directive, which requires companies to reveal their real ownership, should help with figuring it out. He checked the corporate registry in ultra-transparent Slovakia, but Huawei has failed to file documents there. But the fine, if levied, would be just €3,310.

Forced confessions from jailed foreigners and others are standard fare on Chinese state-controlled television. But 13 survivors are urging the European satellite operator Eutelsat to ban CGTN and CCTV4, channels that screen them. Norway has taken the CGTN off air. But France has given it a broadcast license, which could help the station get around a ban from Britain’s broadcasting regulator, Ofcom.

KNOTTED COTTON

Life’s clearly too exciting for the Better Cotton Initiative, an industry-financed outfit that tries to clean up the world’s cotton industry, or at least its image. Last year BCI ceased its monitoring of cotton-picking conditions in the Xinjiang region. That attracted the ire of the Chinese authorities, so the BCI bravely removed the announcement from its website. Making a bad situation worse, the BCI told the New York Times that it couldn’t explain its behavior because the organization was too “small”. It’s hard to check that because BCI’s also removed its staff who’s who from its website (it’s archived, though). Its press spokesman’s removed his LinkedIn profile too. We asked for comment about this oddly furtive behavior: Answer: “We will not be able to provide input on these questions for now.”

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Wolf Warrior Watch

This week’s Wolf Warrior award goes to the embassy in Stockholm, for its fearless determination to behave like an obnoxious bully. It’s accused the journalist Jojje Olsson of “colluding with Taiwan separatists, fabricating fake news to smear China, making extreme anti-China comments, spreading disinformation to provoke anti-China sentiments and sabotaging China-Sweden friendship.”

After describing him as  “dishonest” and “morally corrupt,” it warned Olsson to stop immediately or “face the consequences of your actions.”

Journalists’ union head Ulrika Hyllert says the embassy is employing the kind of hate speech used by trolls. Swedish politicians have reiterated demands for the expulsion of ambassador Gui Congyou. So that’s gone well.

China is being defamed without the right to respond, the embassy, er, responded, Digging the hole a bit deeper, it also says Olsson can’t be taken seriously because he has not visited China for five years. That’s odd, given that Olsson is based in Taiwan — which the mainland authorities lose no opportunity to insist is part of China.

The runner-up is China’s embassy in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, which can’t make up its mind about a recent article in The Diplomat. It’s either a “lame prank” or highly damaging: “irresponsible” and “full of lies.”

Also, it insists nobody is to talk about China’s territorial claims on Tajikistan, or its quasi-military base there. We’ll keep you posted on both.

The comrades in Ottawa also know how to make friends and influence people. Canadians planning their holidays will be deeply encouraged by Ambassador Cong Peiwu’s insistence that the “vast majority” need have no fear of arrest.

What we’re reading 

This week’s must-read is Samantha Hoffman’s look at China’s use of emerging technology to “undercut democracies’ stability and legitimacy while expanding its own influence.”

Smart cities technology, for example, “showcases the character of tech-enhanced sharp power and authoritarianism.”

This “How China Lends” study analyzes 100 debt contracts between Chinese state-owned entities and government borrowers in 24 developing countries. They typically feature unusual:

  • Confidentiality rules;
  • Get-out clauses that make restructuring the debt difficult; and
  • Cancellation provisions: if the deal goes sour China gains influence on the debtor’s domestic and foreign policies.

Remember the taboo-busting Czech delegation to Taiwan last year? Here’s an interesting piece about China’s smear campaign against Miloš Vystrčil, the Czech politician who led it. The results were underwhelming but “the organizational structure behind it is formidable.”

An academic study of China’s mask diplomacy suggests that the main target was domestic opinion.

China likes to argue that foreign criticism of its repressive rule in Xinjiang is based on ignorance. So what happened when Bloomberg journalists went there? They were constantly harassed, but still did a sizzlingly good investigation into the local solar-panel industry.

And finally — don’t miss this scary look at how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is perfecting censorship.

Many thanks to Makuna Berkatsashvili, Isobel Cockerell, Mariam Kiparoidze, Oleksandr Ignatenko, Masho Lomashvili, Mariia Pankova, and Katia Patin of Coda Story, and to Michael Newton at CEPA.

That’s it for this week — we will be back in your inboxes next Thursday,

Best regards
Edward

April 15, 2021