China is lashing out at Canada once again, this time over measures taken by Ottawa last week in response to a new national-security law imposed on Hong Kong. On Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “China condemns that and reserves the right to make further responses. All consequences shall be borne by the Canadian side.”
But as The Globe’s Nathan VanderkKlippe reports‚ the threats and insults the country’s foreign ministry has made in recent months have come with such frequency that it’s difficult to tell which are real.
The law, signed into effect last week by President Xi Jinping, gives Chinese central authorities sweeping new powers over Hong Kong. (Hong Kong today released additional details of the law’s reach, which include the power to stop people from leaving the city.)
Meanwhile, an outspoken Chinese scholar was arrested today by Beijing police, an outcome he predicted months ago. Xu Zhangrun, a legal scholar at Tsinghua University, is the author of a series of essays questioning China’s direction under President Xi Jinping – some of the most trenchant domestic criticism of his leadership in years.
Prof. Xu’s arrest less than a week after the imposition of the new law in Hong Kong has only served to elevate concern among that city’s scholars. The government’s message is clear, says Shanghai-born artist Badiucao: “No matter where you are – mainlander or Hong Konger – no matter who you are – famous academic or civilian – we will arrest you and destroy your reputation.”
China and Iran have negotiated a deal that would see massive investments flow into Iran, oil flow out, and collaboration increase on defense and intelligence.
Why it matters: If the proposals become reality, Chinese cash, telecom infrastructure, railways and ports could offer new life to Iran’s sanctions-choked economy — or, critics fear, leave it inescapably beholden to Beijing.
The deal has not yet been finalized, but both sides acknowledge it’s in the works (though China has been more circumspect).
A leaked draft envisions Chinese-built "airports, high-speed railways and subways," as well as "free-trade zones" in regions of Iran, per the NYT. The deal extends to cyberspace — with China offering "greater control over what circulates" — as well as to defense.
The projects total an eye-watering $400 billion over 25 years.
Reality check: If that figure sounds implausibly high, that’s because it probably is.
“This sounds like a wish list of all the projects that could conceivably be in play, rather than a realistic estimate of anything that China’s been able to do anywhere,” says Andrew Small of the German Marshall Fund’s Asia Program.
China is already “running into problems in innumerable locations trying to do project clusters on a much smaller scale than this,” Small says, referring to elements of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Between the lines: Both sides have clear incentives here: China locks in a cheap oil supply and deepens its strategic links in the Middle East, while Iran — which has virtually nowhere else to turn for foreign investment — gets economic benefits and a big flashing sign that it’s not as isolated as America claims.
But such a dramatic bet from Beijing would be a surprise. It's been dialing back on controversial Belt and Road mega-deals, has historically been careful to balance its relationships in the Middle East (including with Saudi Arabia), and may see uncomfortable parallels with Venezuela, which can't pump enough oil to cover its debts to China.
Meanwhile, while Iran does need Chinese cash, Tehran has found recent reliance on China "a painful experience" and "they absolutely don’t want to have the economy so beholden to the Chinese over that kind of time frame," Small says.
The latest: Domestic critics are already sounding the alarm in Iran, with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accusing the government of handing Iran's “purse to other countries without informing the nation."
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif defended the deal, while denying that Iran would offer discounted oil or sell Kish Island, as some critics had claimed.
What to watch: Even if only a fraction of what has been proposed comes to fruition, this a clear challenge to the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign toward Iran, and another sign of America's geopolitical foes aligning.
Flashback: Tuesday marks the five-year anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal. While President Trump is nowhere near replacing it with a broader deal, a potential President Biden would also struggle to wind the clock back to 2015 and put a deal back together again.
Pompeo aimed directly for Xi Jinping in a speech tonight, calling the Chinese leader "a true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology" and a would-be global hegemon.
The backstory: Pompeo's was the last in a quartet of speeches from top Trump administration officials laying out what they portray as a battle for the survival of the free world against Beijing and its enablers — including more dovish allies and major U.S. companies.
Pompeo spoke at the Nixon Library, symbolically slamming the door on five decades of U.S. engagement with China that began with Nixon.
“If we want to have a free 21st century — and not the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams — the whole paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done."
“We must induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways because Beijing’s actions threaten our people and our prosperity.”
"General Secretary Xi is not destined to tyrannize inside and outside China forever unless we allow it."
“We’re all still wearing masks and watching the body count rise because the [Chinese Communist Party] failed in its promises to the world."
My thought bubble: There's something discordant about this rhetorical onslaught from the administration, given we're months away from an election and the president's attention is elsewhere (as Pompeo was wrapping up, Trump canceled the Jacksonville convention).
Historians of the future may ultimately pay the speeches more heed than most media today.