China Geopolitical Watch – From November 19 to November 25, 2022

Watch contributors: Thomas Taochy, Vadim Leduc Argenta, Anna Balawender (coordinator)

11/20/2022: Deepening of Sino-Cambodian military cooperation -Anna Balawender-

Following his November 20 meeting with Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen thanked the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for supporting the development of his army, according to the South China Morning Post.

This intervention comes against a backdrop of growing tensions between China and the United States, which are engaged in a battle for influence in Southeast Asia. Reuters recalls that on November 12, at the G20, U.S. President Joe Biden publicly expressed concern about growing Chinese influence in Cambodia’s Ream naval base; two days later, Chinese Foreign Ministry official Mao Ning responded: “Cambodia and China have a comprehensive partnership, so the two countries’ public and transparent cooperation in many areas is reasonable and appropriate. China’s support for the upgrading of the Cambodian navy is an ordinary support activity,” according to the speech transcribed by Sohu.

Especially since the November 8-11 visit to the Cambodian capital by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was the occasion for a clear rapprochement between Phnom Penh and Beijing: the two countries signed several cooperation agreements, including on health (facilitating the delivery of vaccines against Covid-19 in Cambodia) and on the restoration of the Takeo temple. The Phnom Penh Post, a local media outlet, also reported the contents of the joint statement issued on the last day of the visit, which said: “Cambodia reaffirmed its resolute adherence to the One China policy and opposition to […] any form of separatist activities seeking “Taiwanese independence” […]. Cambodia supports every Chinese effort to safeguard its core interests and achieve national reunification.”

On this topic, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe reiterated on november 22 that “Taiwan is at the core of China’s core interests” and was a “red-line” that must not be crossed.

11/21/2022: Indonesia, a game-changer in Sino-US relations? -Vadim Leduc Argenta-

At the last G20 Summit in Bali, the Chinese and American presidents both reaffirmed their positions while avoiding aggressiveness. Thus, SCMP argues that structural disputes and rivalry between the two powers continue to weigh on international relations.

However, Indonesia seems to be placing itself at the center of this rivalry by maintaining neutral and peaceful relations with both parties. This is what Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto said on Monday 21 November 2022 after a meeting with Lloyd Austin, the US Secretary of Defence: “Indonesia always takes the position of trying to maintain the best relations with all nations, especially all major powers. We have openly stated on many occasions that we consider China to be a friendly nation to Indonesia”.

A statement that could reassure China after the latest live-fire exercise in Indonesia (between Americans, Indonesians and other allies) as part of annual military operations. According to a France 24 article, the exercises came at a time when Beijing had just carried out, according to a senior US military official, “destabilizing actions” around Taiwan. Prabowo then said that Indonesia was giving priority to dialogue on issues of “possible misunderstandings, possible differences of opinion on territorial waters”.

Finally, he said Jakarta had not been pressured by Washington on its relations with Beijing.

11/21/2022: Deployment of F22s to US bases in Japan -Vadim Leduc Argenta- 

Many experts agree that Sino-US relations are jeopardizing the security of the Indo-Pacific, if not the world.

The start of the deployment of F22s to US bases in Japan is not helping. The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is a stealth fighter aircraft, initially designed for aerial combat but also capable of military ground support, electronic attack and intelligence missions. In short, it is often called the “ultimate fighter”.

SCMP explains that these F22s replace the less efficient F15s already present in Okinawa. The F22s will in fact be deployed in 6-month rotations between the Okinawa and Alaska bases. This arrival is not random. China is showing more and more signs of its intentions towards Taiwan and North Korea is frightening the region.

Yao Yunzhu, a retired PLA major general, said: “The confrontation in Sino-US relations continues to increase, so it is difficult to ignore the possibility of a maritime military conflict”.

11/21/2022: Forced repatriation of Chinese rockets towed by Philippine authorities -Anna Balawender-

On November 21, Philippine authorities announced the blocking of an ongoing mission of their navy, which was working to bring to shore pieces of rockets identified as Chinese. The navy ships were blocked by a Chinese coast guard vessel, whose personnel cut the cable connected to the debris, before bringing them back on board according to The Diplomat. Beijing was quick to deny the forced nature of the repatriation of the rocket debris, reports Reuters.

The event occurred near the island of Thitu, the day after the complaint of the inhabitants of the same island, claiming to have heard “repeated explosions” which were identified as coming from “artillery guns/ weapons”. The Philippine newspaper said that these echoes seemed to come from the Zamora Reef (or Subi in Chinese), one of the largest artificial islands among the seven that China has built in the Spratly Islands.

These demonstrations come at the same time as US Vice President Kamala Harris was visiting the Philippines from November 20 to 22. As a reminder, a historical dispute exists between Manila and Beijing over the delimitation of maritime territory. Both countries turned to international arbitration in 2016, but when the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippine side, the Chinese authorities rejected the ruling. During her official visit, Kamala Harris reaffirmed Washington’s support for the 2016 Court’s decision.

11/22/2022: The EU is set to renew sanctions against Chinese officials accused of human rights violations in Xinjiang. -Thomas Taochy-

The European Union on November 22 renewed for another year the sanctions against Chinese officials whom it accuses of “serious human rights violations” in the Xinjiang region.

The sanctions, which were first voted on in March 2019, targeted four individuals (Zhu Hailun, Wang Junzheng, Wang Mingshan and Chen Mingguo) and one Chinese entity (the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau). As the human rights violations continue, the sanctions are likely to be extended, according to several diplomats for the SCMP media.

The ambassadors will discuss the sanctions as part of the EU’s overall human rights sanctions regime at the EU Coreper II Committee on 30 November. The extension will then have to be approved at a meeting of EU Member State ministers on 5 December. Human rights diplomats already approved the extension on 3 October. This means that the sanctions will be renewed in March, two years after they came into force.

The renewal of these sanctions will undoubtedly contribute to a deterioration of the relationship between the EU and China. As a reminder, the Chinese ambassador to Europe Zhang Ming said that the investment pact was in danger because of “obstacles caused by the European side”.

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