Aug 25, 2020

Axios China

By Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

Welcome back to Axios China. Today we've got Taiwan vs. China, Southern Baptists learning about Uighurs, Chinese podcast recommendations, and a lot more.

  • I love hearing from readers. If you have comments or feedback, email me at bethany@axios.com.
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Today's newsletter is 1,550 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Taiwan targets Chinese tech

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Taiwan has recently issued a series of restrictions on Chinese tech companies, from streaming apps to e-commerce.

Why it matters: Critics say that recent U.S. restrictions on Chinese tech companies stem from Trumpism rather than legitimate concerns. But Taiwan is spooked by Chinese tech as well.

  • The moves come amid a warming U.S.-Taiwan relationship and as both countries grow more alarmed about Beijing's goals in the region.

What's happening: On Aug. 24, Taiwanese authorities ordered e-commerce website Taobao Taiwan to register as a Chinese company, a designation that in Taiwan comes with tougher regulations, rather than as a foreign company.

  • Taiwanese regulators said that Taobao Taiwan, which is owned by a British-registered company, is ultimately controlled by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which owns Taobao in mainland China.
  • Last week, Taiwan also issued new rules that prohibit Chinese streaming platforms Tencent and iQiyi from operating there.

The big picture: Taiwan's proximity to China, its tiny relative size, and the knowledge that the Chinese Communist Party aims to annex it has made some of the self-governing democracy's policies appear prescient.

  • Taiwan excluded Huawei from its digital infrastructure back in 2014. Taiwan's digital minister, Audrey Tang, has called Huawei a "Trojan horse."
  • Young Taiwanese occupied the nation's legislature in 2014 in protest of a potential trade pact with China, concerned about the political leverage that Beijing could wield if the two economies deepened their ties. Concerns about China's use of economic power to interfere in democratic politics did not become widespread in Western countries until around 2018.

Context: Taiwan's recent moves come amid growing concern in several countries about Chinese tech companies.

  • President Trump recently issued an executive order calling for the forced sale of Chinese video app TikTok to a non-Chinese company and prohibiting transactions with Chinese messaging app WeChat.
  • Several European countries, after U.S. urging, have stated that they will limit or exclude Chinese telecom giant Huawei from their 5G networks.
  • India, embroiled in a border dispute with China, has banned dozens of Chinese apps.

Yes, but: It's not clear what major national security concerns would be alleviated by the Trump administration's executive order on WeChat. And vague wording has left Chinese people abroad worried about what new barriers they may face when trying to stay in touch with loved ones back in China.

  • In addition, the Trump administration's tendency to mix politics and business has muddied the waters, fueling speculation that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's private warning to the administration last October influenced the administration's decision to investigate TikTok — which is a direct Facebook competitor.

The bottom line: The Taiwanese government views Chinese tech companies as a serious problem deserving of regulation, scrutiny and, if necessary, exclusion.

2. Russell Moore: American Christians must know about China's Uighurs

Photo: Courtesy of Russell Moore

Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is trying to educate Christians about the cultural and demographic genocide that China is perpetrating against its Muslim population.

Why it matters: "If no one in the world is going to notice that someone is gone, then the CCP can do whatever it wants," says Moore.

What's happening: In addition to a webinar with Uighur activists he held last week on the issue, Moore has written about repression of the Uighurs for the Wall Street Journal, has tweeted frequently about it and is working with U.S. officials on the issue.

His immediate goal is simply to spread awareness among Christians, Moore told Axios in an interview.

  • "Churches have been very receptive and alarmed that they did not know sooner that this was happening. That’s what I hear most often, is people asking why they didn’t know that this was taking place," said Moore, adding that Uighurs have seemed "invisible" to many Americans.
  • "And I think their invisibility is what empowers the CCP to continue their actions. If no one in the world is going to notice that someone is gone, then the CCP can do whatever it wants."

Background: Southern Baptists are the largest evangelical Christian group in the U.S., a group that has overwhelmingly supported President Trump despite the president's history of statements and policies targeting Muslims.

  • In the past few months, the Trump administration has levied sanctions on numerous CCP officials over human rights violations against Muslims. The sanctions have brought praise from human rights activists but also accusations of hypocrisy due to the Trump administration's discriminatory policies targeting Muslims.
  • Moore was openly critical of Trump during the 2016 presidential race — which almost cost him his job — and he later opposed Trump's Muslim travel ban that denied entrance to the U.S. to most citizens of several Muslim-majority countries.

Between the lines: By invoking Christian values, Moore is working to translate an issue centered around Muslim vulnerability for a conservative American Christian audience — a group that in recent years has not been inclined to view Muslims with compassion.

  • "The way of Jesus Christ says we pay attention to our neighbor on the side of the road who is being persecuted and who is being beaten," Moore said in a video posted to Twitter on Aug. 21.
  • "We must not allow China to confiscate what belongs only to God: the lives, souls and consciences of vulnerable human beings," he wrote in a September 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Go deeper: The world's Muslims are facing unprecedented repression

3. Catch up quick

1. The Justice Department announced charges against a Texas A&M University professor accused of conducting research for NASA while hiding his affiliations with a Chinese university and at least one Chinese company. Go deeper.

2. TikTok is suing the Trump administration over the president's executive order to ban the app unless it's sold to a U.S. company, arguing it's no security threat and that it was deprived due process. Go deeper.

3. Top U.S. and Chinese officials stated their continued support for the phase one trade deal in a recent phone call, Reuters reports.

4. The U.S. has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and ended reciprocal tax exemptions on shipping over concerns about Beijing's national security law. Go deeper.

4. China's high-stakes vaccine moment

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the global race for a COVID-19 vaccine heats up, the U.S. is looking to prove it can deliver in a national crisis while China is in its own moment to demonstrate its scientific capabilities, writes Axios' Alison Snyder.

The big picture: Beyond protecting citizens and bolstering the economy, displays of scientific prowess and tilting geopolitics are driving the development of new vaccines and drugs.

China is "very mindful that the eyes of the world are watching them," says virologist Richard Kuhn of Purdue University.

  • "They want to demonstrate that China is not an emerging power, but a power comparable to the U.S.," he adds.

What's happening: Of the 202 COVID-19 vaccines in development around the world, 20 involve teams in China, per the Milken Institute.

  • The Chinese teams are taking several approaches — from traditional ones that use inactivated forms of the virus to spur immunity to more experimental DNA and RNA vaccine platforms that have yet to be approved for human use for any virus.
  • The vaccines from China are in various stages of development, but three — from Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech — are in phase III human trials.
  • It is also, controversially, testing vaccines on members of the military and construction workers traveling overseas.

There's a lot at stake for China in this urgent moment — but also beyond it.

  • "China’s part in this is not just the immediate race for the first safe and effective vaccine it's really the culmination of a much longer strategic plan that they have," says David Fidler, an expert on cybersecurity and global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

What to watch: Vaccine diplomacy is underway, with Pakistan, the Philippines and others entering deals for testing vaccines from China, per WSJ.

  • "A vaccine can be a channel for increasing influence, and the IOUs it builds up strategically around the world are intended to increase China’s prestige vis-a-vis the U.S.," says Fidler.
  • In addition, both Russian and Chinese hackers have been accused of trying to steal coronavirus vaccine research from the U.S.

The bottom line: "If China is one of the first to develop a safe and effective vaccine, they would be in an extraordinary diplomatic and scientific moment in how they chose to share it," says Ryan Ritterson of Gryphon Scientific, a consulting firm that focuses on life sciences.

5. What I'm reading

Economic engine: China’s economy is bouncing back — and gaining ground on the U.S. (Wall Street Journal)

  • China is expected to be the only major economy to grow this year, according to projections from the World Bank and elsewhere. The U.S. economy, on the other hand, may contract by up to 8%.
  • The bounceback "is also buttressing Beijing’s belief that China’s state-led model, which helped the country navigate the 2008-09 financial crisis with minimal pain, is better than the U.S.’s market system."

Bern and Beijing: Swiss explore renewal of "secret deal" with China (NZZ am Sonntag)

  • The Swiss government is looking to renew a secret agreement made with China in 2015 that allows Chinese police to enter the country to investigate Chinese nationals for a period of two weeks without applying for official status, and to extradite Chinese nationals in Switzerland illegally.
  • My thought bubble: Why was this agreement kept a secret?

Vaccine diplomacy: China promises its Mekong neighbors priority access to a coronavirus vaccine developed in China (South China Morning Post)

  • Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang made the remarks in a Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) meeting held by videoconference. The LMC is composed of China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
6. 🎧 1 podcast thing: Chinese-language recommendations

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Last week I asked for reader recommendations for Chinese-language politics podcasts. The response below, from Nathaniel Goldstein, was so helpful that I asked him if I could share with everyone. He kindly agreed.

  • 故事FM isn't too political, but not too shabby for Chinese-language listening.
  • 美国之音 I think is the only one that really gets political.
  • 逻辑思维 on 得到 is quite good too, again, nothing political in contemporary terms. Great history and social commentary!
  • 锵锵三人行 is an old show you can watch on YouTube that had many political/social/economic topics. 
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian