Thu, Aug 23, 2018 - Page 8 News List

China’s growing economic clout

By Sam Sky Wild

Announcements by the US’ three biggest airlines that they are to list Taiwan as part of China might have registered as a tiny blip on the news radar, but some experts say that it represents efforts by Chinese authorities to assert control over the de facto island state.

Forty-four other airlines — including British Airways, Lufthansa and Qantas — also complied with China’s called-for changes, prompting American Airlines to respond: “Air travel is a global business and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate.”

Taiwan has for years grappled with China’s growing business power, while several other “rebel regions” have increasingly had to accommodate the sharper edge of this economic reality: From Tibet to Xinjiang, Macau to Hong Kong and elsewhere within China’s mosaic of regions, Chinese commercial strength is wielded with increasing effect.

“Sadly, businesses around the world are giving in too easily to China’s increasing demands and in Tibet — replete with its atrocious track record on human rights — there are dangerous precedents,” Free Tibet campaigns and communications manager John Jones said. “The more China’s economy permeates the rest of the world, the more they are encouraging other countries to ignore inconvenient realities about life within China’s borders. Today it’s Tibet, tomorrow it’s Hong Kong and then who knows where?”

There are significant differences in the quality of life and freedoms enjoyed among the people who China claims to rule. For example, Hong Kongers have unfettered access to the Internet, while an estimated 50,000 censors in China screen online content for most of the rest of its 1.4 billion citizens.

However, across China and the regions that it either occupies or borders, Beijing’s financial muscle is arguably being flexed and Taiwan is increasingly locked in this vice-like grip.

“China has been trying to squeeze Taiwan’s international space for decades. At times the process seems to slow down or become less visible, but it is a constant effort,” said Dafydd Fell, director of the Centre of Taiwan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

While Hong Kong remains a special administrative region of China, there are a growing number within the territory who fear for its semi-autonomous status.

“Reporters, either consciously or unconsciously, may avoid sensitive topics ... so as not to upset media owners with business interests in the mainland. Whilst there is no top-down censorship in Hong Kong, self-censorship is a worrying trend. Hong Kong may lose its status as a beacon of press freedom in the region,” Hong Kong Free Press editor-in-chief Tom Grundy said as he explained that hard-won freedoms are feeling the heat.

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 19th National Congress in November last year marked Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) fifth year in power. He used the event to issue veiled threats against those seeking to separate from China: “We will never allow anyone, any organization or any political party at any time or in any form to separate any part of Chinese territory from China... We will resolutely safeguard the national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Xi’s consolidated power base — further fortified by the decision allowing him to remain in office indefinitely — has not gone unobserved, with global agencies continuing to raise the alarm.

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