News from the China Research Group
Event: China's Energy Security. We were joined by Helen Thompson, Lara Dong and Michal Meidan on Wednesday for a discussion of Beijing’s energy strategy and its geopolitical ramifications. The panel also considered whether oil and gas deals with China are helping Russia weather sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine. You can watch the event back in full here.
The stories driving the week
A new parliamentary session opened with the Queen’s Speech. Key China-related bills covered included:
National Security Bill - will introduce a Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, requiring the registering of certain arrangements with foreign governments (although The Guardian reported that the inclusion of a foreign agent scheme has been delayed.)
Modern Slavery Bill - pledges “increased transparency from businesses and public bodies”; will involve civil penalties for organisations that do not comply with the Modern Slavery Act requirements.
Procurement Reform Bill - contains provisions to help buyers disqualify suppliers who are “unfit to bid for public contracts.” Could provide guidance for local authorities when procuring from Chinese companies alleged to be complicit in human rights abuses or slave labour.
Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill - includes the introduction of mandatory reporting for UK universities of foreign donations and partnerships over £50,000.
Beijing-backed hardliner John Lee elected as Hong Kong leader as high profile pro-democracy figures arrested
Lee, a former security minister and policeman, received 1,416 votes from the 1,461-member “patriots only” selection committee, which is mostly comprised of pro-Beijing politicians and businesspeople and represents 0.02 per cent of the city’s population.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the selection process that led to John Lee being elected is yet “another step in the dismantling of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle”.
Meanwhile, 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of the Catholic Church's most senior members, was one of four people detained this week for being associated with a now-defunct organisation that helped Hong Kong protesters in financial need.
Cantopop singer and Canadian citizen Denise Ho, veteran barrister Margaret Ng and scholar Hui Po-keung were also arrested under the National Security Law on charges of colluding with foreign forces.
Mark Simon, former deputy to jailed Hong Kong publisher and democracy activist Jimmy Lai, argued in the Washington Post that the Chinese government felt threatened by Zen, “the last inspiring symbol of Hong Kong’s democratic movement.”
Further scrutiny over Chinese tech and investment in the UK
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority instructing them to conduct an in-depth Phase 2 investigation of the proposed acquisition of the Perpetuus Group by Shanghai Kington Technologies and others on national security grounds.
Perpetuus is a group of UK companies active in the strategically-important functionalisation of graphene and other nanomaterials. According to government documents, the business department has concerns because it supplies "at least one quarter" of all graphene plasma goods in the UK.
As a new Future Nuclear Enabling Fund to develop nuclear energy projects across the UK opened this week, Business Insider’s Henry Dyer reported that the police force who protect Britain's nuclear power plants are using cameras produced by Hikvision, the Chinese surveillance tech company blacklisted by the US for its role in human rights violations in Xinjiang.
CRG co-chair Tom Tugendhat commented: "This is a company which works hand-in-hand with the CCP's surveillance state. It shouldn't be anywhere near our nuclear security."
Separately, a Bloomberg report revealed that the UK’s Health Security Agency has been using Hikvision surveillance technology at laboratories that conduct research into vaccines and deadly diseases.
Former Chinese Ambassador to Ukraine offers rare Russia criticism
In a highly unusual move, former Chinese ambassador to Ukraine, Gao Yusheng, spoke openly about how disastrous the war has been for Russia.
During an internal webinar hosted by government-affiliated organisations, Gao argued Russia has been in a “continuous, historical process of decline” since the demise of the Soviet Union.
A Twitter thread by former Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs Bruno Maçães details Gao’s comments in full, in which he states that it is only a matter of time before Russia is “finally defeated.”
Career diplomat Gao’s remarks were subsequently quietly scrubbed from the Chinese internet.
Shanghai looks to emerge from lockdown as Beijing remains on the brink
Officials in Shanghai, which has endured six weeks of an almost complete lockdown, said economic activity was gradually resuming, with many factories operating in "closed loop" systems, with workers living on site.
The city is aiming to achieve its ‘societal zero-Covid’ target by May 20, Wu Qing, the city’s executive vice-mayor, said on Friday morning.
Meanwhile, Beijing officials late on Thursday denied rumours of sweeping, Shanghai-style lockdown measures. Queues quickly started to form on Thursday afternoon at grocery stores, where shelves were being emptied of fresh vegetables and other staples.
China’s National Immigration Authority said it would “strictly limit” unnecessary outbound travel by its citizens, coming on top of existing measures preventing people from bringing the virus into China,
The FT’s Sun Yu and Tom Mitchell explore whether Xi Jinping will be able to eliminate Covid without doing irreparable damage to China’s economy.
‘We are now living in a totally new era’ - Henry Kissinger. The former US secretary of state and national security adviser discusses Russia, the Ukraine war and China at the FTWeekend Festival.
China’s Forgotten Premier Steps Out of Xi’s Shadow as Economic Fixer. A long read from Wall Street Journal’s Lingling Wei explores how Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is re-merging as a force in Chinese politics through dialling back policies that have contributed to the economy’s slowdown.