I Overview

China:

  • 13th BRICS Summit held 
  • SCO Leaders Summit held in Dushanbe
  • Newly promoted General given charge of Western Theatre Command
  • China to protect rights of gig workers
  • EAM Jaishankar met Chinese FM Wang Yi on sidelines of SCO Summit at Dushanbe

Japan:

  • Kishida wins LDP leadership race
  • Princess Mako to marry on 26 October
  • Japan’s Q2 GDP grows 1.3%
  • Japan – Europe space mission captures first photos of Mercury

South Korea:

  • South Korea tests a SLBM
  • Korea’s global battery market share rises
  • South Korea marks 73rd Armed Forces Day

North Korea: 

  • North Korea carries out series of missile tests
  • Kim Jong-un offers to restore inter-Korean hotline

Hong Kong:

  • HK’s exposure to Evergrande minimal
  • HK Retail sales up by 11.9% in August 2021

Taiwan: 

  • Chinese Air Force planes violate Taiwan’s ADIZ
  • Taiwan to partially lift outdoor mask mandate
  • Taiwan GDP growth likely to be in 5.5 to 6% range in 2021

II Developments in China

13th BRICS Summit held 


The 13th BRICS Summit, under the Chairmanship of India, was held virtually on 9 September 2021. While this grouping of 5 important countries continues to meet periodically, the fact is that the salience and resonance of the grouping is declining. China’s attempts to change the status quo on the border with India has bedeviled that relationship. China and Russia continue to move closer to each other. Therefore, bilateral ties between individual BRICS nations are more important than the sum of the parts. This is also reflected in the length of the Joint Statement issued at the end of the Summit meeting. India was happy it did not have to host an in-person meeting on Indian soil which would have seen President Xi of China visit us and meet PM Modi on our turf. Given the ongoing shenanigans in Eastern Ladakh this would have been uncomfortable for the hosts. To us, BRICS does not seem to be going anywhere in particular. 

SCO Leaders Summit held in Dushanbe

The meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) Council of Heads of State was held in Dushanbe on 17 September 2021. While PM Modi addressed the Summit virtually, EAM Dr Jaishankar was on the ground and attended in-person. Once again, a face-to-face meeting between PM Modi and President Xi of China was avoided. An important development during the Summit was that Iran was formally admitted into the SCO. Once more, the activities of the SCO have unfortunately been adversely impacted by the pandemic as well as by geopolitical realities. A long Joint Statement was issued on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of SCO. Again, complicated bilateral relationships between members of the SCO is adversely impacting the coherence of the organisation. 

Newly promoted General given charge of Western Theatre Command

Newly promoted to the rank of full General, Wang Haijiang has been made Commander of the Western Theatre Command (WTC) based at Chengdu which is responsible for the India border. This is the fourth change in command at the WTC since December 2020. However, we should not expect any change in military policy towards India. Tensions on the border in Eastern Ladakh will continue. The next round of talks to disengage forces in this sector are now scheduled for mid-October 2021. Along with this appointment, new Commanders for the PLA Air Force and the PLA Navy have also been appointed. 

China to protect rights of gig workers

New rules and laws to protect the right of platform- or gig-workers were issued in July 2021 by Beijing. This includes the whole gamut of delivery persons for different technology service providers such as Meituan, Tencent, Didi and many others. It appears to be part of the current drive to achieve ‘common prosperity’ through protecting the rights of workers in this sector of the economy. The tech firms which provide such platforms for gig-workers were asked to provide the government with a timeline when they would comply with the new regulations. They were also asked to share the methodology they would follow in this effort. 

EAM Jaishankar met Chinese FM Wang Yi on sidelines of SCO Summit at Dushanbe

EAM Dr. S Jaishankar met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on 16 September 2021 at Dushanbe on the sidelines of the SCO Summit. EAM noted that the tense situation on the LAC in the Western Sector had still not been entirely resolved although disengagement has taken place at some points. He drew attention to Wang Yi’s earlier comment that bilateral relations had touched a new ebb and indicated that this situation would not improve till the LAC became quiet and disengagement is completed. Later in the month, in response to a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, India’s MEA once again reiterated its position that China was responsible for attempting to change the status quo in the Western Sector of the LAC and until this situation was resolved bilateral ties would continue to be adversely impacted. 

III Developments in Japan

Kishida wins LDP leadership race

Fumio Kishida, former Foreign and Defense Minister, won the race for the leadership of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party beating out Taro Kono and will take over as PM of Japan when the Diet meets later in October. He will have to lead his party into a general election expected to be held soon. Kishida is a parliamentarian from Hiroshima. Foreign policy is not expected to change much from the Shinzo Abe period. 

Princess Mako to marry on 26 October

Japan has set 26 October 2021 as the date when Princess Mako will marry a “commoner” Kei Komuro, her friend for many years at college. Mako is the niece of Emperor Naruhito. They announced their engagement in 2017 but have come in for intense scrutiny and public disapproval since. 

Japan’s Q2 GDP grows 1.3%

Japan’s economy grew by 1.3% in the 2nd quarter of 2021 from April to June. While this is a welcome development, Japan’s growth is slower than other major economies in the post pandemic period. Japan’s GDP had shrunk by 3.7% in the 1st quarter of 2021. 

Japan – Europe space mission captures first photos of Mercury

The Europe – Japan joint space mission BepiColombo has sent back its first images of the planet Mercury almost three years after the unmanned mission was launched. 

IV Developments in South Korea

South Korea tests a SLBM

On 15 September 2021, South Korea test-fired its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) becoming the first non-nuclear state to carry out a SLBM test. South Korea also recently test fired an air-to-surface missile and a cruise missile. With North Korea also testing new missiles the two Koreas seem locked into an expanding arms race. 

Korea’s global battery market share rises

South Korea’s share of the global secondary battery market rose from 34.7 % in 2018 to 44.1% in 2020. It has three major battery producers LG Energy Solutions, Samsung SDI and SK On. However, 63.9% of four key materials used for battery making – cathodes, anodes, separators and electrolytes – were imported from foreign companies. 

South Korea marks 73rd Armed Forces Day

The 73rd Armed Forces Day of South Korea was marked on 1 October 2021 at Pohang, where UN forces made their first landing during the Korean War. The Navy and Air Force practiced joint landing operations in the presence of President Moon Jae In.

V Developments in North Korea

North Korea carries out series of missile tests

In September 2021, Pyongyang carried out a series of missile tests including of a new hypersonic missile believed to have nuclear capability as also a new anti-aircraft missile. The tests are a clear indication that North Korea continues with weapons development despite strict sanctions. 

Kim Jong-un offers to restore inter-Korean hotline

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has announced that he is willing to restore a vital communication hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul. This is seen as a possible offer of reconciliation. The hotline was severed in August in protest against South Korea – US military drills. 

VI Developments in Hong Kong

HK’s exposure to Evergrande minimal

Financial Secretary of Hong Kong, Paul Chan has stated that HK’s exposure to China Evergrande Group which is at the core of a debt crisis is “very minimal”. He said that a recent audit of local banking sector’s exposure to the company shows it to be just 0.05% or US $ 1.79 billion. 

HK Retail sales up by 11.9% in August 2021

Hong Kong’s retail sales shot up by 11.9% year on year in August 2021 fueled by the launch of a HK $ 36 billion digital voucher scheme. Online sales remained strong jumping 16.5%. Eligible HK residents are entitled to HK $ 5000 worth of e-vouchers to spend locally in shops. 

VII Developments in Taiwan

Chinese Air Force planes violate Taiwan’s ADIZ


38 Chinese war planes violated Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on 1 October 2021. Taipei scrambled its own fighters in retaliation and gave warnings to the intruding Chinese aircraft to turn back. 

Taiwan to partially lift outdoor mask mandate

Commencing 5 October, Taiwan will no longer require people to wear masks in spacious outdoor environments. Farm fields, forests and mountains were cited as examples of places where this rule will be applied. 

Taiwan GDP growth likely to be in 5.5 to 6% range in 2021

Economic institutes and forecasters are expecting Taiwan’s economy to exhibit robust GDP growth of between 5.5 and 6% in 2021. While consumption spending has not risen significantly, exports and investment are buoyant. 
 

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

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(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.