In its efforts to portray itself as an investment haven for multinationals, the People’s Republic of China has shown itself to be far more accommodating to foreign companies than governments. Such has been its thirst for foreign investment as it modernizes that even companies headed by pro-independence Taiwanese have been treated with silk gloves.
Over the years, this strategy bore fruit for Beijing as foreign companies rushed to establish themselves despite growing criticism of China’s human rights record. This two-track approach — kind to businesses, intransigent with governments — has created a buffer between politics and business such that one does not threaten to undermine the other even during political crises. This helps explain, for example, why the corporate sector — even in Taiwan — showed itself so willing to resume operations in China after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.
The same applied to tensions over the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, the occasional spat over Japanese leaders visiting the Yasukuni shrine, or accusations of Chinese spying. Governments spar rhetorically, but no one does anything to prevent economic exchanges.
One recent case, however, is threatening to undermine China’s image as an investment hub: the Rio Tinto spy scandal. Beijing’s National Secrets Protection Bureau claims that the Australian firm has spied on Chinese steel mills for six years, which it claims resulted in the mills overpaying US$102 billion for iron ore. Four Rio employees in Shanghai, including Stern Hu (胡士泰), an Australian, were detained last month on suspicion of stealing state secrets.
Some analysts have said that China may be using the accusations to put itself in a position of strength in iron ore price talks with Rio Tinto. Some also say the accusations lack transparency, are vague and hardly credible. For example, China’s claim that it overpaid US$102 billion for iron ore is odd given that Rio Tinto’s total iron ore revenue over the past six years was US$42.6 billion.
Depending on how the case goes and how the alleged spies are treated in a country that has a history of dealing swiftly with such individuals, the potential exists for the conflict to become political — for politics to intrude upon economics. In recent months, relations between Australia and China have become tense, largely the result of allegations of Chinese spying on Australian government officials and, in the past two weeks, Beijing’s campaign against the Melbourne International Film Festival over a film about the life of Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer.
Since Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) famous southern tour in 1992, China has dramatically improved its image as a place where foreign businesses can invest. Changes, including legislative reforms, have alleviated apprehensions among multinationals that in times of crisis they could be the targets of retribution or that their assets could be nationalized.
But the accusations of spying against Rio Tinto involve a China that is far more assertive than it was a mere decade ago, which means that its flexibility toward economic partners may be something of the past. In times of aggressive nationalism, that flexibility is bound to disappear altogether.
If it mishandles the Rio Tinto case, China could very well face its first crisis of foreign investor confidence.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) wrote: “The KMT must fall for Taiwan to improve.’ Allow me to ask the question again: Is this really true?” It matters not how many times Hsu asks the question, my answer will always be the same: “Yes, the KMT must be toppled for Taiwan to improve.” In the lengthy Facebook post, titled “What were those born in the 1980s guilty of?” Hsu harked back to the idealistic aspirations of the 2014 Sunflower movement before heaping opprobrium on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP)
The scuffle between Chinese embassy staffers in Fiji and a Taiwanese diplomat at a Republic of China (ROC) Double Ten National Day celebration has turned into a public relations opportunity for the government, Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Although the incident occurred on Oct. 8, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) downplayed it, only for the story to be picked up by the foreign media, forcing the ministry to respond. The public and opposition parties asked why the government had failed to remonstrate more strongly in the first instance. It is still unclear whether the ministry missed a trick
US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former US vice president Joe Biden, are holding their final debate tonight. In their foreign policy debate, China is sure to be a major issue of contention for the two candidates. Here are several questions the moderator should pose to the candidates: For both: In the first televised US presidential debates in 1960, then-Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and his Republican counterpart, Richard Nixon, were asked whether the US should intervene if communist China attacked Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Kennedy said no, unless the main island of Taiwan was also attacked.
For most of us, the colorful, otherworldly marinescapes of coral reefs are as remote as the alien landscapes of the moon. We rarely, if ever, experience these underwater wonderlands for ourselves — we are, after all, air-breathing, terrestrial creatures mostly cocooned in cities. It is easy not to notice the perilous state they are in: We have lost 50 percent of coral reefs in the past 20 years and more than 90 percent are expected to die by 2050, a presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California, earlier this year showed. As the oceans heat further and