East Asia Digest by Ambassador Gautam Bambawale | May 2021

I Overview

China:

  • ​2020 Census shows China’s population growth close to Zero
  • State Council releases a new White Paper on Tibet​​​​​
  • Bytedance founder Zhang Yiming to step down as CEO
  • Xi Jinping’s “New Development Stage” contribution to Marxist Thought
  • Yuan Longping, Father of Hybrid Rice Passes Away

Japan:

  • Different views in Japan on holding Olympics
  • Japan administers Moderna vaccine for the first time
  • Japan considers halting economic aid to Myanmar

South Korea:

  • South Korean President Moon visits the White House
  • Politicians support pardon/clemency for Samsung heir
  • South Korea approves Moderna’s Vaccine

Taiwan: 

  • Sudden surge of Covid cases surprises Taiwan
  • Taiwan Foreign Minister congratulates newly elected Tibetan Sikyong 

Hong Kong:

  • HK Q1 GDP rises by 7.9%


II Developments in China

2020 Census shows China’s population growth close to Zero

Some results from China’s decennial census taken in 2020 are being released by the National Bureau of Statistics showing that China’s population rose from 1.34 billion in 2010 to 1.41 billion in 2020 a growth of just 5.4% over the 10-year period. Average annual growth rate works out to just 0.53%. The sex ratio works out to 51.24% males and 48.76% females. Urban population is 63.89% while the rural population is 36.11 %. The Han ethnic group accounts for 91.11% of the total population while other ethnic groups account for a mere 8.89%. The major trend is that China’s population growth is slowing significantly and is close to zero. 

State Council releases a new White Paper on Tibet

The State Council has released its latest White Paper on Tibet which states that Tibet has been a part of Chinese territory since ancient times and it was the UK-led imperial powers which began to cultivate the idea of ‘Tibet independence’. The White Paper covers the peaceful liberation of Tibet and the development processes in the region post liberation. A last part of the White Paper covers national security and stability in Tibet. Finally, there is a 10-point guideline for the new era. These White Papers are generally a long list of positions that Beijing takes on important issues and this White Paper on Tibet is no exception. It is a good reference point for Communist Party members but for the rest of us should be seen as no more than propaganda. 

Bytedance founder Zhang Yiming to step down as CEO

The founder of ByteDance the company which owns TikTok is stepping down soon as CEO of the firm. While Zhang will continue to serve on the Board of ByteDance, the role of CEO is being handed over to Liang Rubo, who is former dorm-mate of Zhang’s from Nankai University and is trusted by Zhang. The transition is likely to take 6 months. This measure is due to the growing crackdown on tech companies by Chinese regulators. ByteDance is the world’s most valuable privately held tech company.  

Xi Jinping’s “New Development Stage” contribution to Marxist Thought

It has been recently revealed that Xi Jinping delivered a major speech on 11 January 2021 at a seminar for leading cadres titled “Grasp the New Development Stage, Implement the New Development Concept and Build on the New Development Pattern”. This fact came to light only when the speech was published in the Party journal Qiushi in end April 2021. The ideas propounded in this speech by Xi are being looked upon as a major contribution by the current General Secretary to Marxist thought. While socialism is considered the primary stage of communism, Deng Xiaoping had propounded in 1987 that China was in the primary stage of socialism. So, the development of socialism itself needs to be divided into different historical stages. Now, Xi propounds that the current New Development Stage is one of the stages of the primary stage of socialism. To seek happiness for the people and rejuvenation for the nation is the root and soul of the new development concept. From these conceptual ideas, Xi extrapolates that the most conspicuous feature of the world today is – turmoil. Xi says that China can withstand this turmoil and weather any storm as long as China is self-reliant, remains economically strong and can stand on its own. Then China will be invincible no matter how the storm changes internationally. 

Yuan Longping, Father of Hybrid Rice Passes Away

Yuan Longping known in China as the Father of Hybrid Rice passed away at age 90 on 22 May 2021. His funeral on 24 May in Changsha saw large crowds gathering to pay their respects to one of the most well known scientists of the country. Communist Party leaders, both past and present, also sent wreaths for the funeral. Yuan is considered a national hero for developing the first hybrid rice varieties in the 1970s. it is believed that over 100,000 people lined the streets of Changsha to pay homage to their hero, something normally seen only for national leaders since 1949. 
 
III Developments in Japan

Different views in Japan on holding Olympics

Political and public opinion within Japan continues to see great differences of opinion with about 80% of the public feeling that the Games should be postponed, while the ruling party LDP and PM Suga vow that the Games will go on. In the meanwhile, the Olympic Games Organizing Committee also continues to state that the Games will go ahead as planned. The United States has recently advised against travel to Japan due to the Covid situation there. In sum, there is still great uncertainty around the holding of the Olympics in Tokyo even though there are less than two months to go. The uncertainty itself may sabotage the Games especially if athletes are not prepared for them. 

Japan administers Moderna vaccine for the first time

Japan has administered its first shots of the Moderna vaccine to members of the Self Defense Forces. Both the Moderna vaccine and the AstraZeneca one have been given fast track approval by the Japanese Government.

Japan considers halting economic aid to Myanmar

While Japan has already announced that it will not consider any new economic assistance to Myanmar following the coup there, it is also considering stopping current aid projects with a view to pressurize the Myanmar military authorities to restore democracy in that country. 

IV Developments in South Korea

South Korean President Moon visits the White House

President Moon Jae-In of South Korea became only the second Head of State or Government to visit the Biden White House on 21 May 2021. Coming after Japanese Prime Minister Suga’s visit last month, President Biden has exhibited his desire to repair and rebuild ties with allies particularly in East Asia. The US and Korean Presidents recommitted themselves to their ironclad alliance even as the security situation in the Indo-Pacific gets more complex. The United States reiterated its commitment to provide extended deterrence using its full range of capabilities to South Korea. The two leaders also emphasized their shared commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. They agreed to work together to create a free, open, safe, prosperous and dynamic Indo-Pacific Region. Immediately after the meeting President Biden appointed a US Special Envoy for North Korea in the person of Ambassador Sung Kim, a former diplomat with experience in Korean affairs. This shores up President Moon’s desire to be seen as having worked assiduously towards peace on the peninsula. Also, the fact that China was not named anywhere in the Joint Statement issued by the 2 Presidents, though there were several paras unmistakably aimed at that country, is being considered significant in Seoul and Beijing. This too must have been at the insistence of South Korea. With this visit, President Biden shows that he is moving steadily forward on his foreign policy agenda even as he pays the bulk of his attention to domestic U.S. issues.

Politicians support pardon/clemency for Samsung heir

Some politicians in South Korea including Kim Gi-hyeon, leader of the main opposition People Power Party and Lee Kwang-jae of the Democratic Party of Korea have made statements which appear to favor pardoning Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong, who is serving a 2 ½ year sentence for bribery of former President Park Geun-hye. President Moon Jae-in too has said that he would like to listen to the views of the people in this matter before arriving at a decision. Many politicians in Korea believe that providing clemency or a pardon to Lee will help boost the semi-conductor industry in Korea which is at the centre of the trade and technology war between China and the U.S.

South Korea approves Moderna’s Vaccine

South Korea has given approval to Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine after two of three expert panels made a positive recommendation that it be approved. This is the 4th Covid-19 vaccine approved by Seoul apart from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. Moderna has a deal with South Korea to deliver 40 million doses of its vaccine although the time line is not clear. 

V Developments in Taiwan

Sudden surge of Covid cases surprises Taiwan

Taiwan suddenly logged around 1200 new Covid cases in the third week of May 2021 taking the health authorities there by surprise. 1824 new domestic infections have been recorded since 14 May. Before this date it had recorded a mere 135 local infections. Taiwan is considered a successful example of how the pandemic can be handled due to its early reactions and response to the pandemic in China as far back as end 2019 and the low numbers so far. One of the reasons being offered for the rise of cases is that Taiwan has been slow in vaccinating its population against the virus. This has put added pressure on Taipei to quickly approve Chinese vaccines and use them to inoculate its population. Taiwan continues to seek to avoid making this decision. 

Taiwan Foreign Minister congratulates newly elected Tibetan Sikyong

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has sent a letter of congratulations to Penpa Tsering on his election as the new Sikyong (political head) of the Tibetan community outside China. The term of the current Sikyong Lobsang Sangay ended 26 May 2021. 

VI Developments in Hong Kong

HK Q1 GDP rises by 7.9%

Hong Kong’s economy grew by 7.9% in Q1 of 2021 as compared to a year earlier, a good rebound after 6 consecutive quarters of GDP contractions. Even if this figure is computed on a small base of Q1 in 2020, the very fact that the economy is now on its way out of recession will come as a relief to the leaders of HK. The government of HK continues to maintain a guidance of GDP growth for the whole year 2021 of 3.5% to 5.5%.

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