August 16, 2022
Welcome back to Axios China. Today we're looking at the 20th Party Congress to be held later this year, a defeat for China's #MeToo movement, Google searches, and lots more.
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Today's newsletter is 1,199 words, a 4½-minute read.
1 big thing: Key party meeting looms closer
China's 20th Party Congress, when President Xi Jinping is expected to be selected for a highly unusual third term, will be held in Beijing within a few months.
Why it matters: The congress will likely consolidate Xi's hold on power, signaling at least another five years of the hardline domestic authoritarianism and aggressive foreign policy he ushered in during his first two terms.
Details: Party congresses are held once every five years, typically in October or November, but the dates aren't announced until shortly before the event commences.
- The most important function of the congress is to choose who will fill top party leadership positions.
- They include seats in the Politburo, the party's top governing body, and the Politburo Standing Committee, a group currently composed of seven members who count as China's most powerful men. (There are currently no women on the committee.)
- Deliberations are secretive, and there is no transparency regarding how selections are made. As a result, analysts inside and outside China pore over state media during the months leading up to the congress for hints at which party cadre's star is rising and whose may be falling.
The big picture: Recent party congresses have been key to peaceful transfers of power in China — which have only occurred a few times under party rule.
- Party congresses have become "particularly important since reform and opening in 1979, when Deng Xiaoping sought to implement a rules-based succession and promotion process, rather than a personality-driven process under Mao Zedong," said Drew Thompson, visiting fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
- "Previous successions had been fraught with imprisonment, assassinations and chaos," Thompson said.
- In 1992, for example, Jiang Zemin was affirmed as China's top leader at the 14th Party Congress, following his predecessor Zhao Ziyang's house arrest for his role in the Tiananmen Square protests.
Truly peaceful successions only occurred at the 16th Party Congress in 2002, when Jiang Zemin gave up control to Hu Jintao, and at the 18th Party Congress in 2012, when Xi Jinping took over, Thompson said.
- Xi's plan to disrupt this recent precedent by taking a third term makes the 20th Party Congress particularly sensitive, as it means prolonging his power, and that of his supporters, beyond the time frame that some other party elites may believe he should.
Between the lines: The looming meeting is likely influencing the decision-making of China's top leaders on crucial issues including the zero-COVID policy and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Taiwan visit.
- The months leading up to the Party Congress are typically accompanied by extra domestic political and social restrictions. That's because political rivals of a top party cadre could use perceived policy failures against that person and their allies during the closed-door negotiations that determine future political sway.
2. Chinese court rejects landmark sexual harassment case
A Chinese court rejected an appeal by Zhou Xiaoxuan, a screenwriter and feminist activist who accused a TV host of sexually assaulting her in 2014, The Guardian reports.
Why it matters: Zhou's public accusation against a prominent man helped inspire a domestic Me Too movement in China and encouraged many other women to lodge sexual harassment complaints.
Details: Zhou first wrote online in 2018 that Chinese state news presenter Zhu Jun had groped her while she was an intern. Her accusation drew national attention. The TV host denied the allegations and has sued for defamation.
- She later brought her case to court, but a 2021 ruling dismissed her case due to what the court said was insufficient evidence.
- Zhou and her lawyers appealed that decision, but the appeal was rejected in last week's ruling.
What she's saying: “Four years have passed, and the most important thing is that we have raised this question: When a woman encounters sexual harassment in a closed space, is her pain worth paying attention to?” Zhou told a group of supporters outside the court in Beijing.
- “There may be no answer today, but the most important thing is that we put this question here.”
3. Catch up quick
1. China is currently experiencing its most severe heat wave in six decades, the Global Times reports.
2. Taiwanese organizers canceled a global Pride event after they were asked to remove "Taiwan" from the event name, Reuters reports.
- Taiwan was the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
3. Several Facebook pages popular in Hong Kong have been shut down after two men were arrested on sedition charges, as China's crackdown on the city's traditional freedoms continues to deepen, the Wall Street Journal reports.
4. Another U.S. congressional delegation met with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei this week. Go deeper.
- China announced more military drills in response to the visit.
- It's China's first white paper on Taiwan since 2000.
4. Economic worries persist
New data released this week confirms worries that China's growth is continuing to slow, Axios' Hope King writes.
Driving the news: China's central bank cut a key interest rate unexpectedly for the second time this year.
- “The rate cut shows the entire economy is in trouble,” Iris Pang, ING chief economist for greater China, told Bloomberg.
The big picture: Policymakers in China are facing a number of challenges that prevent them from feeling confident about economic growth this year.
- A slowdown in China will ultimately have a ripple effect on the rest of the world.
Yes, but: U.S. corporate earnings have been better than expected, and investors have become less sensitive to this year's string of bad news.
5. What I'm reading
An assist from Moscow: Hamilton 2.0 toplines (Alliance for Securing Democracy)
- Kremlin-linked accounts from Aug. 1 to 7 "focused on US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, calling the trip a provocation, amplifying China’s threats, and stressing Moscow’s solidarity with Beijing," researchers who document the nexus between Chinese and Russian state-linked social media accounts wrote last week.
- "'Pelosi' was the most frequently used key phrase by Russian state media and diplomats on Twitter. Taiwan was the second most mentioned country by monitored Russian accounts during the 48 hours after Pelosi touched down in Taipei. Ukraine was knocked all the way down to fifth during that timeframe."
6. 1 Google thing: China interest surges after Pelosi visit
"China" became the third most-searched topic across the United States in early August out of a list of issues likely to sway midterm voters, according to the newest data for Axios' Google Trends midterm tracker.
Why it matters: The attention and controversy over Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan extended outside the D.C. bubble, capturing national attention, Axios' Stef Kight and Jacque Schrag write.
- China's ranking was the highest it has been since Axios began tracking the data in late May.
- China ranked sixth on the list the last week of July and 11th the last week of June.
By the numbers: The top five districts searching for China were all in California — Pelosi's home state.
- Rep. Judy Chu's (D-Calif.) district had the most China searches relative to any other district. Chu, the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress, told CNN ahead of Pelosi's visit that she has "always supported Taiwan."
A big thank you to Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath and David Nather for edits, Sheryl Miller for copy edits, and Aïda Amer for visuals.