16 June 2020

Plus61J: Israel caught between an eagle and a dragon as it courts China

16 June 2020 0

My recent article on the effects of US-China tension, which is in danger of becoming a zero-sum Thucydidean trap, on Israel, has been published in Plus61J. So I am going to post the link to this article here.

22 April 2020

A reflection on China-Israel relationships in the midst of Covid-19

22 April 2020 0

On 8 April 2020, Zev Chafets, a journalist and a former aide to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, wrote an opinion piece for Bloomberg about China sending 20 tonnes of medical supplies to Israel in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic. From this, he extrapolates that China has been gain soft power within Israel, and increased the tension between Washington and Jerusalem over Israel's growing relationship with China. Most of his points are well-known to those who have been observing the Sino-Israeli relations. I thought I would use his opinion piece as a springboard into further reflection on this relation between two nations with divergent geopolitical interests but converging economic interests.

1. Has China been gaining influence in Israel?

According to a Pew Research report published in 5 December 2019, around 66% of Israel's population have a positive view of China. That is quite high, but as Carice Witte pointed out,  that is actually a drop from 90% in nationwide survey conducted by SIGNAL (an Israeli based think tank that focuses on China-Israel relationship) back in 2017. Witte suggests that the reasons for this drop in positive view of China among Israelis might have to do with negative news surrounding default loans for BRI projects (e.g. Sri Lanka and the Maldives). That might be true, but a more probable reason might have to do Israeli sensitivity to America's strategic views and suspicions about China's strategic intention with regards to its investment in Israel. This can be seen in the formation of an advisory committee within Israel's security cabinet to vet foreign investment proposals on the basis of national security interests. (Reuters, October 2019). This suspicion is clearly seen in the recent decision in April 2020 by the CEO of Clalit health fund, an Israeli health maintenance organisation (or HMO) to back off from a deal worth US 29 million dollars to cooperate with BGI Group, a Shenzhen based genomics firm, on research into antibodies tests for Covid-19, due to privacy concerns about the DNA data of Clalit's 4.9 million customers.  This is despite previous attempts by Yossi Cohen, the head of Mossad, to try to resolve any issues of concerns with regards to the deal. So, while Chafets is probably right that many Israelis admire China's successful efforts in containing the Covid-19 virus (despite its earlier missteps) as well China's generous donation of medical supplies, China's soft power has actually been dropping in Israel.

2. Oh, that port of Haifa deal ...

Chafets alluded to Israel's strategic role in China's BRI project, with the port of Haifa connecting the Mediterranean Sea and Eilat facing the Red Sea. In 2018, Israel agreed to lease the operation of the port of Haifa to a Chinese company, angering Washington. This earned a stern visit by Mike Pompeo and John Bolton to Jerusalem, warning Netanyahu that the deal could lead to cessation of cooperation in the sharing of intelligence and visits by US navy to the port of Haifa. It is worth noting, however, that the deal to own the operation of the port of Haifa was previously offered to US companies, but none showed interests. Israel then turned to a Chinese state owned company, the Shanghai International Port Group, who secured the deal to operate the port from 2021. This leads to three obvious points.

a) Israel as a start-up nation is hungry for investment capital.
b) They would have preferred to turn to US or other western sources for finance, perhaps due to cultural and institutional affinities. This happens a lot, but not always.
c) Where that is not forthcoming, Chinese SOEs and private companies have been willing and able to provide the capital that Israel needs to continue its start-up economic model.

3. Looking into a post-Covid-19 future
China is going through an economic downturn in the midst of Covid-19 epidemic. So funds for Belt and Road related projects will lessen. But this has already been happening in the lead up to the Covid-19 crisis, due to experience with loan defaults from several countries (e.g. Sri Lanka, The Maldives). Interestingly, funding for projects in the Middle East has increased in the same time. The coming months will see a Chinese government being more astute about how it spends its money on any overseas projects that loosely come under the banner of 'Belt and Road'. Israel might probably seen as a safer bet for Chinese investment in a post-Covid-19 world.

16 February 2020

Chinese academics' open letter to the Chinese National People's Congress calling for freedom of speech, 8 February 2020

16 February 2020 0
言論自由權從今天開始 — 致全國人民代表大會及其常務委員會的公開信, 2020-2-8

What follows is the translation of a statement by a few high level Chinese academics to the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) on 8 February 2020 calling for freedom of speech policies, two days after the death of the whistleblower, Dr Li Wenliang. The original text was published in The Stands News in Hong Kong. This is why it is in traditional scripts.
It is worth noting that respect for freedom of speech is a part of the Chinese constitution, though that right is interpreted through the lenses of one-party rule and the need for national harmony and stability.
This call for academic freedom is timely but far from unprecedented, but one should not expect this to be a nail in the coffin for one party rule in China. As recent as December 2019, numerous Chinese academics have raised alarms about the increased restriction on academic freedom and "demand for loyalty" under Xi. ('Demand for Absolute Loyalty to Beijing at Chinese Universities Triggers Dissent', Wall Street Journal. 18 December 2019) The CCP has always been concerned about the role of intellectuals within the country, but under Xi, this has taken up a notch. This is exemplified by he introduced reforms in 2017 that forced reputedly liberal universities like Shantou University to toe the party line by ordering the party committee at Shantou University to take a lead role in overseeing the running of seminars and academic forums on campus. ('Chinese Communist Party targets university known for global outlook', South China Morning Post. 28 March 2017) As Professor Linda Jakobson from an Australian think tank, China Matters once said, the primary objective of the CCP is to preserve the one party state, above all else.
Nonetheless, the timing of this petition is poignant in the light of the current uproar in Chinese social media over Li Wenliang. Furthermore, it underlines the relative impotence of the Chinese social credit system in the face of this public health crisis.

2020年2月6日,吹哨人李文亮烈士在武漢肺炎的瘟疫中死去,成為言論自由被壓制的犧牲者,其情其狀痛徹人心,天地為之悲鳴。
因為當局對言論和真相的壓制,新冠病毒得以肆虐,億萬中國人在最隆重最喜慶的傳統節日里陷入隔離和恐懼,全民處於事實上的軟禁中,社會、經濟被迫停頓。迄今已經有至少637個同胞死去,數百萬計的武漢、湖北籍人在寒冷和無助中被歧視、被驅逐,流離失所。
如此悲劇的始作俑者,是李文亮等八位從醫者在1月初遭到警察的無端訓誡,醫生的尊嚴在警察暴力對言論自由的淫威面前顯得是那麼卑微。三十年來以自由讓渡安全的中國人民隨後陷入了更不安全的公共衛生危機之中,一場人道主義災難正在迫近。世界人民對中國的恐懼超過了病毒的傳播速度,讓中國陷入前所未有的全球孤立。
這一切都是放棄自由、壓制言論的代價,中國模式正在淪為泡沫。直至今日,當局防民之口仍重於防疫,最高法和行政機關以僭越憲法的法外方式實行未經宣佈的緊急狀態,以防疫為藉口非法中止憲法的公民權利,包括言論自由、遷徙自由和私有財產的權利等等。
這一切該結束了,沒有言論自由便沒有安全!以公民的名義,我們提出五大訴求:
一、我們要求,把2月6日定為國家言論自由日(李文亮日)。
二、我們要求,從今天開始落實中國人民享有憲法第35條賦予的言論自由權利。
三、我們主張,從今天開始,中國人不應再因言論而受到任何國家機器和政治組織的威脅,公民的結社和通信自由等權利不受任何政治力量和國家機器的侵害,國家機關應立即停止對社交媒體的審查和封禁。
四、我們希望,武漢和湖北籍公民應得到平等的公民權利,所有武漢肺炎患者都應得到及時、妥善、有效的醫療救助。
五、我們呼籲,全國人民代表大會應立即召開緊急會議,避免被任何政治勢力非法中止今年的預定會期,並且討論如何立即保障公民的言論自由問題。從言論自由起,從今日開始行憲!
我們歡迎所有人加入聯署,持續更新,永久開放。
人民大學部分校友
人大校友 魯難,吳小軍,秦渭,田仲勳
北京大學教授 張千帆
清華大學教授 許章潤
獨立學者 笑蜀, 郭飛雄
地質大學校友 王西川

[English translation]
On 6 February 2020, whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang died from the coronavirus in Wuhan, thus became a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression. This is a heartbreaking tragedy that echoes through heaven and earth.
Due to suppression of freedom of expression, coronavirus was able to inflict fear and suffering amongst the people in a time supposedly meant for the celebration of the festive new year. It is as if the entire people have been placed under house arrest. All economic and social interactions were forced to come to a halt. To this date, there have been 637 deaths, and millions of people in Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province suffers in the cold helplessly, facing discrimination, dislocation and isolation.
The origin of this tragedy started with the police unjust reprimands of Dr Li and his eight medical colleagues who raised alarm about the epidemics. This amounts to a vagrant abuse of police powers. For doctors who have their freedom of speech violated simply for doing their duties amounts to an attack on their dignity. For thirty years, the Chinese people have traded their liberty for the sake of
safety, only to find them in an even more unsafe public health safety crisis. We are close to the edge of a humanitarian disaster. Fearing the spread of the virus, the world has isolated China.
This is the price for sacrificing liberty, the cost of repressing free speech, the foams of Chinese style socialism. Till now, the overall government message focuses on disease prevention. However, courts and law enforcement agencies have often used unconstitutional means to implement unannounced state of emergency, and used disease prevention as an excuse to rob people's constitutional rights, including the right to free speech, right to freedom of movement and right to own private properties.
This all must cease. There is no safety if there is no freedom of speech. In the name of the people, we hereby issue five demands (to the Chinese National People's Congress).
1. We demand that 6 February shall be declared Freedom of Expression Day, or Li Wenliang Day.
2. We demand that the government properly implement every parts of section 35 of the PRC constitution with regards to freedom of expression.
3. We request that from this day forth, no Chinese citizen should be threatened by state authorities and law enforcement agencies purely for voicing their opinions, exercising their right to freedom of assembly and communication. Government authorities should cease the monitoring and censoring of postings on social media.
4. We request that the people in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province should be treated equally in comparison to people from other cities in China. Their civil rights should be respected. All sufferers of coronavirus should receive timely and effective treatment.
5. We call on all delegates to the (upcoming) National People's Congress to begin emergency sessions, in order to avoid the possibility of the planned NPC session from being cancelled due to political reasons. We further call on NPC delegates to discuss how to implement legal measures that would safeguard people's rights to freedom of speech. We call on delegates to implement what is promised to the Chinese people by the constitution with regards to the right to free speech.
We welcome all signatories to this petition. This petition will remain open.
Signatories:
Several academic colleagues from Renmin University, Beijing (unnamed)
Lu Nan, Wu Xiaojun, Qin Wei, Tian Zhongdong, Academic colleagues from Renmin Univesity, Beijing
Professor Zhang Qianfan, Peking University
Professor Xu Zhangrun, Qinghua University
Xiao Shu, Guo Feixiong, independent scholars
Wang Xichuan, Chinese University of Geosciences, Wuhan

09 February 2020

Dr Li Wengliang's wife' posting on social media regarding her husband's death

09 February 2020 0
This was posted on Chinese social media by Fu Xuejie, the wife of the late Dr Li Wenliang, one of the doctors who first sounded alarm about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan and was soon reprimanded by the police for "spreading rumours", and have died from nCov-2019 on 7 February 2020. First the original Chinese, then my English translation.

2月7日
本人付雪洁,襄阳人,是李文亮医生的妻子,本人声明我们不接受任何个人捐款。网上流传的本人求助信息均为不实信息。
感谢社会各界对李文亮医生及对我们家人的关怀!
同时我把我丈夫李文亮的《我走了》完成全稿!

在我成为一粒尘埃之前,我又静静地怀想了一遍故乡的黑土白云。多想回到小时候啊,风是尽情飞舞的,雪是洁白无瑕的。
活着真好,可我死了。我再也无法抚摸亲人的脸庞,再也无法带孩子去看东湖春晓,再也无法陪父母去看武大樱花,再也无法把风筝放到白云深处。
我曾依稀梦见我尚未出世的孩子,他(她)一出生就眼含热泪,在人潮人海中把我寻找。对不起,孩子!我知道你只想要一个平凡父亲,而我却做了一个平民英雄。
天快亮了,我要走了,带着一张保证书,那是我此生唯一的行囊。
谢谢世间所有懂我怜我爱我的人,我知道你们都在黎明等候,等我越过山丘!可是,我太累了。
此生,我不想重于泰山,也不怕轻于鸿毛。我唯一的心愿,就是希望冰雪消融之后,众生依然热爱大地,依然相信祖国。
等到春雷滚滚,如果有人还想纪念我,请给我立一个小小的墓碑吧!不必伟岸,只须证明我曾来过这个世界,有名有姓,无知无畏。
那么,我的墓志铭只需一句:
他为苍生说过话。

7 February 2020:
My name is Fu Xuejie, from the prefecture of Xiangyang, wife of Dr Li Wenliang. I hereby state that we are not seeking any donation or assistance. Any news or postings on social media suggesting that we are seeking assistance are fake news.
Furthermore, I hereby post my late husband's completed essay before his death,
"I now leave"
Before I return to the dust, I quietly reminisce about my old home town. I think back to my youth, when winds would dance, and clouds were perfectly white.
Living is good, but I am about to die. I will no longer be able to caress the cheeks of my wife, no longer be able to take my child to see spring dawn at Donghu, no longer be able to accompany my parents to see the cherry blossoms at Wuda, no longer be able to fly kites in the sky.
I wistfully dreamt about my not yet born child. He (She) would be crying, seeking me from amongst the crowd. I am sorry my child. I know you wanted an ordinary father. Alas, I can only be a hero of the people.
Sun is about to shine. I am about to go, carrying nothing but my identification card. This will be my only belonging going to the grave.
My gratitude to all those who have pitied, sympathised and supported me. I know you have all waited till dawn hoping that I would be over the worst. Unfortunately, I am simply too tired, too exhausted.
Throughout my life, I have not wanted to sound sombre and trifling. My heart's only wish is that once the snow melts, we would continue to love our world, believe in our motherland.
When the spring comes, if people want to remember me, please just make a small epitaph. Nothing grand. Just to show that I once came and lived in this world. I had a name. I had lived my life without fear.
I only want one line on my epitaph. "I have spoken for the common people."
 
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