I Overview


  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Visits China
  • Premier Li Keqiang’s warning on the state of China’s Economy
  • China’s Economy in Trouble
  • Zero Covid policy is being discreetly criticized


  • 2nd Physical Quad Meeting held in Tokyo
  • Indo – Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) for Prosperity launched at Tokyo

South Korea:

  • Yoon Suk-yeol sworn in as new President of the Republic of Korea
  • President Biden visits South Korea

North Korea: 

  • Upsurge in Covid cases in North Korea
  • North Korea fires missiles after Biden’s Asia visit ​​​​​​

Hong Kong:

  • Hong Kong elects John Lee as new Chief Executive

II Developments in China

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Visits China

Michelle Bachelet the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited China 23 – 28 May 2022. It is not often that China permits the UN High Commissioner to visit and hence this particular trip is seen as significant. It also conveys China’s increasing ease at handling human rights issues. Bachelet met Xi Jinping and Wang Yi among others. The Chinese interlocutors conveyed the following to Bachelet – do not politicize human rights; do not engage in double standards; human rights cannot be detached from a country’s realities and development stage; do not engage in camp confrontation. At the end of her visit Bachelet issued a statement that the visit was not an investigation; however, she did raise a number of issues with her Chinese counterparts; she told the Chinese that she would like to see more women in authoritative positions; China should have more rigorous procedures for reviewing capital punishment; she did raise concerns about Xinjiang. Under the circumstances, Bachelet seems to have opted for a visit with clear redlines rather than no visit itself. Whether it has pressured the Chinese authorities on human rights is a moot point. 

Premier Li Keqiang’s warning on the state of China’s Economy

In late May 2022, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had a hybrid meeting with economic officials from all over China in which he expressed concern about the state of the economy and the rate of economic growth. It is being touted that over 1 lakh officials were on the call with Li. A number of measures to kick start flagging economic growth were announced after the meeting. Due to severe Covid lockdowns and other causes many independent economists are forecasting GDP growth of a mere 2.5% for China in the first half of this year. 

China’s Economy in Trouble

A slew of statistics showed clearly what some economists have been predicting that China’s economy is in trouble due to Covid lockdowns and other reasons.  Retail sales shrank 11.1% in April 2022 from a year ago; factory production declined 2.9%; sales of automobiles fell by 47.6% in April 2022 as compared to the same period a year ago; value of property sales slumped by 46.6%; new construction starts measured by floor area declined 44.19% and catering revenue fell by 22.7%. 

Suddenly, Premier Li Keqiang seems to be appearing all over the Chinese media – as if he is to blame for this bad news. At every other juncture Li would be ignored by the media and only Xi Jinping was given credit for all good things in China. Li has been backtracking on the recent onslaught against private enterprise in China stating to the contrary that it is very important for the growth of the economy. That is part of the politics behind the bad economic news in China in the hope that it does not stick to Xi and his hopes for a third term as General Secretary of the Party.

Zero Covid policy is being discreetly criticized

The zero Covid policy which led to the sharp and long lockdown in Shanghai and some other cities is now being criticized, although discreetly, by some in China. The lockdowns have had their negative impact on the economy which is showing clear signs of a serious slow down. Since the policy is closely aligned with Xi Jinping there is only so much criticism it can face. In China’s system, the fact that murmurs against that policy can be heard is enough to clearly depict that Xi is running into some trouble on this front. Whether it will dent or damage his chances for getting a third term as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China is uncertain. 

III Developments in Japan

2nd Physical Quad Meeting held in Tokyo

The 4th meeting of Quad leaders and their 2nd physical meeting was held at Tokyo on 23 - 24 May 2022. The leaders of India, Japan, Australia and the United States renewed their commitment to a free and open Indo – Pacific that is inclusive and resilient. They reaffirmed their resolve to uphold the international rules-based order where countries are free from all forms of military, economic and political coercion. They agreed to take their work to combat Covid-19 further including through production and distribution of vaccines. The Quad will extend about 50 billion USD of infrastructure assistance and investment in the Indo – Pacific over 5 years. They launched the Quad – Climate Change Adaption and Mitigation Package (Q – CHAMP). The Quad Cybersecurity Partnership will help build cybersecurity capacity in the Indo – Pacific. The Quad Fellowship was launched at Tokyo where 100 STEM students will be chosen to work together at US Universities. 

The Tokyo Summit of the Quad has provided the group with a positive, pro-active agenda which will shape regional approaches to the Quad. 

Indo – Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) for Prosperity launched at Tokyo

13 countries including the 4 Quad members launched the process to establish the Indo – Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity during President Biden’s visit to Japan on 23 May 2022. The framework is intended to advance resilience, sustainability, inclusiveness, economic growth, fairness and competitiveness for the economies of the member states. IPEF will launch negotiations on 4 pillars namely – Trade, Supply Chains, Clean Energy Decarbonization and Infrastructure, and Tax and Anti-Corruption. Participation from additional Indo-Pacific partners that share the goals, interests and ambitions for the region are invited to join. Indonesia, Brunei, South Korea, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam have joined IPEF apart from the four Quad members. 

IV Developments in South Korea

Yoon Suk-yeol sworn in as new President of the Republic of Korea

Yoon Suk-yeol was sworn in as President of the Republic of Korea on 10 May 2022 in Seoul. In his inaugural address delivered outside the National Assembly he dedicated himself to rebuilding the nation as a liberal democracy, a thriving market economy, a trusted member of the international community and a nation that belongs to all its people. In a complex and challenging international environment, Korea is experiencing record low growth and rising unemployment but Yoon promised to put into place policies which will change this situation. Extolling freedom as a universal value he promised he would ensure that all Koreans were truly free. Referring to North Korea, Yoon said the door to dialogue will be open if North Korea were to denuclearize. 

Some of the international dignitaries present at the swearing in were the President of Singapore, Vice President of China, Foreign Minister of Japan, Second Gentleman of the U.S.

President Biden visits South Korea

President Joe Biden of the United States made a visit to South Korea on 20 – 22 May 2022 aimed at shoring his nation’s alliances in Asia. The visit was a shot in the arm for new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol who had just been sworn in for a five-year term earlier in the month. The objectives of Biden’s visit were to build personal rapport, strengthen deterrence against North Korea, enhance mutual economic security and expand South Korea’s role as an important member of the international community. The visit to South Korea which was part of a trip to Asia was also a signal to China that the U.S. was very much an Indo-Pacific power and that it was here to stay. 

V Developments in North Korea

Upsurge in Covid cases in North Korea

After having closed its doors to people from outside North Korea and having been successful for almost two years in ensuring that Covid – 19 did not impact the nation seriously, North Korea has just experienced a huge upsurge in cases. The disease probably may have spread from China. State media proclaimed in mid-May 2022 that the country was facing a “grave situation”. BBC reported that over a million people were affected by the disease by mid-May. Several deaths have also been reported. However, North Korea has limited testing capacity for the disease. Also, it does not possess the vaccines that have been developed in other parts of the globe. Despite the lack of hard data or information, it is clear that North Korea is indeed suffering from an upsurge in Covid cases. 

North Korea fires missiles after Biden’s Asia visit

On 25 May 2022, within hours of President Joe Biden of the United States completing his tour of Asia and departing for home, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles in the space of an hour. This is a typical aggressive response by North Korea of the discussions between the U.S., Japan and South Korea on issues pertaining to the Korean Peninsula. 

VI Developments in Hong Kong

Hong Kong elects John Lee as new Chief Executive

On 8 May 2022 Hong Kong’s Election Committee voted by a massive 1416 votes out of 1500 to make John Lee the new Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region. Lee was the only candidate in the election. The 64 year old, former secretary for security was anointed by Beijing as its preferred candidate. The vote followed major changes to HK’s electoral laws to ensure that only “patriots” can hold office. Lee will take office on 1 July 2022. Meanwhile, there has been an exodus of expatriates out of HK. Singapore has gained significantly from such large departures from HK. 


The previous issues of East Asia Digest are available here: LINK

(The views expressed are personal)


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About the Author

Ambassador Gautam Bambawale

Former Ambassador of India to Bhutan,
China and High Commissioner to Pakistan and Distinguished Visiting Fellow- AC

Ambassador (Retd) Gautam Bambawale was a member of the Indian Foreign Service from 1984 to 2018. He was India’s Ambassador to Bhutan, Pakistan and China.

Bambawale was stationed in Washington DC in 2004-07 during the Indo-US nuclear deal which transformed ties between the two countries. He has been India’s first Consul General in Guangzhou (China) 2007-09. He was Director of the Indian Cultural Centre, Berlin 1994-98.

Ambassador Bambawale worked in the Prime Minister’s Office 2002-04. At the Ministry of External Affairs he was Joint Secretary for East Asia from 2009-2014. Bambawale has dealt with China for 15 years of his 34 year diplomatic career. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and German.

Ambassador Bambawale is currently Distinguished Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Symbiosis International University, Pune and teaches a course on Diplomacy and International Governance at the Symbiosis School of International Studies. He has an M.Phil. in Economics from the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune.