May 20, 2020

Axios China

Happy Wednesday and welcome back, Axios China readers. Today we've got secret Chinese documents, Huawei and U.S. businesses, and tons more.

  • This week's newsletter is 1,608 words, a 6-minute read.
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1 big thing: Exclusive — China's secret extradition request for Uighur in Turkey

Image credit: Aïda Amer/Axios

Axios has obtained a Chinese government request sent to the Turkish government for a Uighur man who fled Xinjiang amid worsening repression.

Why it matters: Uighurs living outside China have long suspected Beijing is using its growing diplomatic and economic clout to pressure foreign governments into interrogating and deporting them.

  • These documents from 2016 and 2017 — together with Turkey's treatment of the man after that — provide rare proof this is happening.
"I spend most of my nights in fear. I usually don’t sleep until after 1am because I am afraid they will come for me and my family."
— Enver Turdi, in an interview with Axios

Details: Enver Turdi, the man named in the extradition request, has lived in Turkey since early 2014 when he fled Xinjiang, a region in northwest China that is home to around 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority.

  • In 2012 and 2013, Enver passed along information about Chinese government abuses to Radio Free Asia and to Uighur organizations abroad, he told Axios in an interview. He left China on a tourist visa after one of his associates was detained.
  • In 2015, the Chinese Embassy in Turkey refused to issue him a new passport, without which he could not renew his Turkish temporary residence permit, Enver told Axios. In 2017, he was placed in a deportation facility for 12 months after being unable to produce valid residence documents.
  • Turkish security officials then interrogated him and claimed that he had been running a pro-Islamic State website, which he denied, and showed him a copy of his 2004 graduation photo, which Enver says they could only have obtained from China. His case was sent to a criminal court, not an immigration court.

Enver's case is still pending in the Turkish courts.

The documents: The dossier is 92 pages long and includes the Chinese government extradition request, dated May 2016, supporting police reports, Turkish translations provided by the Chinese government, and Turkish government documents from 2017 indicating the request was accepted by the Turkish Ministry of Justice and that court proceedings were initiated.

  • Enver's lawyer obtained the dossier in early 2020, the first time that Enver says he knew for sure that the Chinese government was behind his troubles in Turkey.
  • To authenticate the documents, Axios consulted experts on Chinese and Turkish law, human rights groups who work on cases in Turkey and China, and researchers who focus on Xinjiang.

What they're saying: The Chinese government accused Enver of creating a pro-Islamic State website and participating in a terrorist organization. Enver denies these accusations.

  • Beijing asked Turkish authorities to discover Enver's whereabouts, seize or freeze his assets, arrest him, and "repatriate him to China."
  • The documents themselves aren't formally marked as classified, but the Chinese government instructed Turkish officials to keep the case a secret, writing, "The details of this case are classified, we ask the Turkish side to keep it confidential in accordance with local laws."

Context: After thousands of Uighurs left China amid worsening repression over the past decade, the Chinese government launched a quiet global campaign to force Uighurs to return.

  • After the rise of the Islamic State, which a small number of Uighurs joined, the Chinese government has increasingly framed Uighur religious and cultural activity as dangerous extremism. One official list of signs of "religious extremism" included "distorting Xinjiang history," "young men wearing long beards" and "closing restaurants during Ramadan."

“The lengths that China will go to control Uighurs is stunning,” said Elise Anderson, a program officer at the Uighur Human Rights Project, a U.S.-based advocacy organization, told Axios.

Go deeper:

2. U.S. companies may suffer amid Huawei restrictions

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new regulation announced last week requires foreign semiconductor suppliers that use U.S. designs to get a license from the U.S. government before selling to Huawei.

  • Business groups aren't exactly welcoming the move with open arms.

Why it matters: The new restrictions may reduce revenues and hobble research and development for U.S. companies.

What they're saying: "It could make it very difficult for U.S. companies who have been selling their products to Chinese companies," said Doug Barry, communications director at the U.S.-China Business Council.

  • "That will affect their revenues, their employment, their supply chain, the competitiveness of their products."
  • A knock-on effect is that research and development, in particular, could take a hit, as companies won't be able to reinvest as much revenue into next-generation products.

Background: The U.S. first placed export limits on Huawei in May 2019. But those guidelines were porous. Huawei could still get U.S. products through third-party vendors. Now that loophole is largely closed.

What to watch: Other Chinese companies will be affected too, particularly if the Chinese government chooses to retaliate by limiting U.S. access to China's markets.

  • "International information and communication technology manufacturers play a vital role in supporting connectivity and economic growth in China and around the world," said Patrick Lozada, director of global policy at the Telecommunications Industry Association.
  • "Potential retaliation aimed at international suppliers could undermine business confidence and limit choices for Chinese companies and consumers."
3. The DOJ's China Initiative could be problematic for civil rights

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A legal scholar is raising concerns about the Department of Justice's China Initiative, which is aimed at countering economic espionage, theft of intellectual property and other national security concerns related to China, and its possible implications for civil rights.

Why it matters: Amid the U.S. government's new emphasis on countering threats from China, there is growing concern about the potential for over-zealous or discriminatory investigations.

What's new: Maggie Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law who focuses on criminal justice law in China and Taiwan, argues in a new draft paper in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology that the use of "China" as a frame doesn't sit well with the Department of Justice's own principles.

  • "[U]sing 'China' as the glue connecting cases under the Initiative’s umbrella creates an overinclusive conception of the threat and attaches a criminal taint to entities that have an even tangential nexus to 'China.'"
  • A clear threat does exist, writes Lewis. But lumping investigations together under a "China" label suggests "threat by association," which goes against the spirit of the department's commitment to pursuing cases individually.

The solution: Lewis said the U.S. government should explore measures such as enhanced audits and tightened regulation before resorting to a criminal law response.

  • Lewis also suggests "adopting a country-neutral framing and only connecting cases when there is a compelling reason to do so, not because they have been categorized as part of a larger China threat."

The bottom line: "You don’t want to be a Pollyanna and deny that there is a threat," Lewis told Axios in an interview. "But you don’t also want to have over-deterrence. You want to find the sweet spot. I’m not convinced that the China Initiative is currently doing that."

Go deeper:

4. Germans now put China on par with U.S.

In 2019, Germans were twice as likely to prefer a close partnership with the U.S. (50%) as China (24%).

Why it matters: Perceptions of the world's two biggest powers could be shifting in profound ways during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Asked for their most important foreign policy partner, Germans are far more likely to pick France (44%) than the U.S. (10%) or China (6%).
  • Among Americans, the U.K. (26%) ranks first, followed by China (18%), Canada (10%), Germany (6%), Mexico (4%) and Russia (4%).
5. What I'm reading

Coronavirus vs. cinema: How can China's film and television industry save itself? (RFA)

  • This is an interesting interview with Aynne Kokas, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, about how the Chinese film industry has been affected by the epidemic.
  • "The main funder still capable of producing and funding film production is the Chinese government," says Kokas. "Therefore, the government will have more leverage to influence the type and content of the narratives that Chinese movies are producing."

Leninist-fascist-something: What kind of regime does China have? (The American Interest)

  • Francis Fukuyama throws his heft behind a clear-eyed look at what China under Xi Jinping is becoming, though he argues China's trend toward totalitarianism isn't yet written in stone.
  • Fukuyama supports decoupling, though he calls it "gradual economic disengagement."
  • "Although the Trump administration’s campaign against Huawei has been clumsy and in many respects self-defeating, the goal is essentially correct: It would be crazy for any liberal democracy to allow this firm to build its basic information infrastructure, given the way it can be controlled by the Chinese state."

Ni Hao Alexa: How a Chinese AI giant made chatting — and surveillance — easy (Wired)

  • "In 1937, the year that George Orwell was shot in the neck while fighting fascists in Spain, Julian Chen was born in Shanghai." I bet you didn't expect an article about iFlytek to start that way!
  • "Americans might tap Alexa or Google Assistant for specific requests, but in China people often use Input to navigate entire conversations. iFlytek Input's data privacy agreement allows it to collect and use personal information for 'national security and national defense security,' without users' consent."
6. 1 book thing: America's biggest mistake

Image credit: Aïda Amer/Axios

For those of you who like to look at things from both sides, you'll likely enjoy the latest book by Singaporean former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani.

The big question: "Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy" (Public Affairs, March 2020) starts with a question no U.S. politician dares address publicly: "What strategic changes will America have to make when it no longer is the world's dominant economic power?"

Key takeaways: Mahbubani examines both China's and America's biggest strategic mistakes.

  • Mahbubani says China's biggest error in its dealings with the U.S. was alienating the U.S. business community, once China's loudest supporter in Washington, through years of predatory practices such as forced technology transfer.
  • And America's biggest mistake was launching a geopolitical contest with China "without first working out a long-term strategy."

Flashback: I asked Mahbubani what he thought the Obama administration's biggest mistake was.

  • He said it was the "prevalent belief that a country like the U.S., that is less than 250 years old and has less than a quarter of the population of China, could transform a country the size of China with a 4,000-year history."