Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 30 November 2020


Twitter-post garbage the clearest sign yet of desperation in Beijing

Australia is the country that's supposed to be feeling the pressure. But a look at the evidence reveals that the supposedly mighty regime of strongman Xi Jinping is the one feeling the strain. We now have three clear points of proof.

When China's ambassador to Australia openly threatened trade boycotts against Australian products in April, he revealed how worried the regime was. It was the moment that Xi removed the mask. For years his regime had been undermining Australia – through cyberattacks, political interference, demands that Chinese Australians support Beijing's political agenda – but always kept the smiling mask of friendship in place. Remember that Xi told Australia's Parliament in 2014 that the two countries should "be harmonious neighbours who stick together in both good times and bad times".

An image posted on Twitter by a Chinese official was in poor taste and reveals Beijing is under pressure.

An image posted on Twitter by a Chinese official was in poor taste and reveals Beijing is under pressure. CREDIT:

The Chinese Communist Party's functionaries always delivered their threats and pressure tactics in private. Xi imposed a freeze on top-level contacts with Australia two years ago. He ordered a go-slow on Australian thermal coal imports last year. But coercion had never been declared openly.

When the ambassador, Cheng Jingye, went public to issue his threats against Australian beef, wine, tourism and university revenues, we all saw the truth – there is no goodwill, only gangsterism.


It was a foolish tactic. Why blow the cover story and antagonise the Australian people? Because Xi was feeling the heat. He'd bungled the coronavirus, exposed China to global criticism and pitched the whole world into recession. Keep in mind that the party was deeply anxious about its grip on power even when the economy was booming. Harvard sinologist Ross Terrill has described it as "the irreducible problem of legitimation of a government that has never been elected". "It is a state that is oppressive, yet also afraid of its own people."

And because, despite China's size and might, Xi was feeling threatened by Australia's declarations of independence. Australia's Huawei ban was a world first. A score of other countries have followed. Australia's foreign interference legislation was another first. Other democracies are looking to it as a model.

Illustration: Dionne Gain

Illustration: Dionne GainCREDIT:

Then Australia proposed an inquiry into the origins and handling of the coronavirus. Was it clumsily done by Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne? Yes. But the idea itself was so obviously common sense that more than 130 countries ultimately agreed to a modified plan for an inquiry. Including China.

From Australia's view, these were three actions to protect its interests. But from Beijing's, they were a threat. Xi's regime saw Australia as defiant. Worse, Australia's defiance was encouraging other countries. So the mask was off, the threats delivered.

The second proof point came two weeks ago. That's when a pair of Chinese embassy officials summoned a Nine reporter, Jonathan Kearsley, to a meeting and handed him their list of 14 specific demands on Australia. A Beijing spokesman called on Australia to "correct its errors". This is a marked change of tactics. China's officials almost always maintain maximum ambiguity when demanding redress. Vagueness is "part of their strategy", as Peter Varghese, former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said earlier. "They leave it to you to guess. They let you go through the process of thinking, ‘What could we have possibly done to upset the Chinese?' They leave us to use our imaginations to think of what we might have done."

Monday November 30: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has responded to 'repugnant' China tweet, calling for it to be taken down.

This is the same principle – the self-criticism – that the party used to pressure victims during the Cultural Revolution. "The whole pattern of Chinese exercise of influence and control is to bring pre-emptive concessions to China so that they don't have to invade or do anything so unsubtle."

So why the sudden switch? The Chinese embassy saw that its tactics weren't working. Or couldn't wait any longer for them to take effect. Because of the pressure emanating from Beijing HQ, no doubt.


If that whiffed of panic, Monday's effort stank of it. It was juvenile propaganda. The fictitious picture of a Australian trooper holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child was in very poor taste by any standard. But it was published on the official Twitter account of China's Foreign Ministry.
China's spokesman, Zhao Lijian, added the comment: "Shocked by the murder of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts and call for holding them accountable."

Zhao is one of China's so-called Wolf Warrior diplomats. He's obviously no diplomat. And as for wolf warrior, it's more like schlock monger.

We know that Donald Trump lowered the standards of conduct by great powers. But this garbage almost makes Trump look statesmanlike. This is ISIS-level stuff.

Illustration: Andrew Dyson.

Illustration: Andrew Dyson.CREDIT:

The key point is this: did Zhao or his masters stop to think of the effect that this might have? Is this really going to pressure Australia into yielding? It won't, of course. It's entirely counterproductive to Beijing's cause. It only exposes Xi's regime as thugs and grubs, rallies Australians around their government and hardens Australia's resolve. It's the clearest sign yet of desperation in Beijing.


Because Xi's regime knows the truth of this statement last week by Shi Yinhong, an academic and sometime foreign policy adviser to China's State Council, or cabinet. Because of China's conduct since the virus outbreak, "China is more isolated than it was before." And Xi doesn't know what to do about it. 



En Chine, des barbelés le long de la « route de la soie »

Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. This centre, situated between regional capital Urumqi and tourist spot Turpan, is among the largest known ones, and was still undergoing extensive construction and expansion at the time the photo was taken. Picture taken September 4, 2018. To match Special Report MUSLIMS-CAMPS/CHINA REUTERS/Thomas Peter - RC11C0921B10

Réservé à nos abonnés

    DécryptagesDans le Xinjiang, les habitants ouïgours, musulmans et turcophones, majoritaires dans cette région périphérique, subissent colonisation, sinisation et répressions des autorités de Pékin.

    Quand le pouvoir communiste prend par les armes, en 1949, le contrôle du Xinjiang, où une petite république indépendante du Turkestan oriental avait été fondée cinq ans plus tôt, l’ethnie majoritaire en Chine des Han n’y représente alors que 7 % de la population. La province devient « région autonome ouïgoure du Xinjiang » en 1955.

    Pour la siniser, Pékin envoie des colons et crée des bingtuan, un corps paramilitaire chargé de défricher les terres arables et d’exploiter les ressources. Ils emploient aujourd’hui 2,8 millions de personnes – han pour l’écrasante majorité –, produisant près de 17 % du produit intérieur brut de la région. Les administrations et les sociétés d’Etat sont d’autres vecteurs majeurs d’implantation.

    Musulmanes ouïgoures devant un poste des forces de sécurité, à Urumqi, capitale de la région autonome du Xinjiang, en mai 2014.
    Musulmanes ouïgoures devant un poste des forces de sécurité, à Urumqi, capitale de la région autonome du Xinjiang, en mai 2014. Ng Han Guan / AP

    Sous leur impulsion se développent les villes de Korla et de Karamay, qui ont toutes deux prospéré grâce à l’exploitation pétrolière, ou encore Shihezi, villes à 95 % han, dont l’économie repose sur l’agriculture intensive du coton et de la tomate.

    le Xinjiang, laboratoire des politiques répressives de Pékin contre les minorités

    Région autonome ouïgoure
    du Xinjiang

    Effritement de la majorité ouïgoure

    Les grandes villes historiques ouïgoures du Sud, comme Kachgar et Hotan, ont vu leur majorité ouïgoure s’effriter lentement, de la même manière qu’à Gulja, dans l’Ouest, les populations kazakhe et ouïgoure. Le Xinjiang compte aujourd’hui 11,2 millions de Ouïgours, soit 48,5 % de la population, contre 8,5 millions de Han (37 %) – soit cinq fois plus qu’en 1949. Les Kazakhs sont au nombre de 1,5 million.

    Alors que la Chine resserre la vis autour des pratiques de l’islam, à la suite des attentats du 11 septembre 2001, l’afflux de Han, la prédation des terres et des ressources par des entités chinoises et la répression policière de toute manifestation identitaire alimentent le ressentiment des Ouïgours, musulmans et turcophones, pendant la décennie 2000.

    Entre conquête chinoise et revendications indépendantistes

    La dynastie mandchoue des Qing conquiert la région du Xinjiang. Les rébellions des ethnies locales, notamment ouïgoures, se succèdent
    Yakub Beg établit un émirat indépendant et impose un pouvoir musulman
    L’Empire Qing reprend le contrôle militaire au Xinjiang et en fait une province
    Première République islamique du Turkestan oriental, dans le sud du Xinjiang
    Seconde République du Turkestan oriental (RTO), dans l’ouest, soutenue par l’URSS
    La Chine communiste occupe militairement le Xinjiang, qui devient « région autonome ouïgoure » en 1955
    Période maoïste (1950-1976)
    Des cadres du parti et des paysans-soldats (« Bingtuan ») sont envoyés en masse pour siniser le Xinjiang. La révolution culturelle conduit au saccage des mosquées et à la purge des élites ouïgoures
    Ouverture et réformes
    (à partir de 1980)
    Sous l’impulsion de Pékin, la région se développe économiquement, tandis que s’accroît la répression face aux revendications nationalistes des Ouïgours. Dans la foulée des attentats du 11 septembre 2001, le pouvoir les considère comme des terroristes islamistes
    Clashs interethniques à Urumqi, sur fond de ressentiment des Ouïgours, face à leur marginalisation et à la migration forcée de leurs travailleurs vers la Chine côtière
    Intensification de la répression. Des attentats islamistes frappent le Xinjiang et ailleurs en Chine
    La « guerre totale contre le terrorisme » conduit à une politique d’internement de masse de la population ouïgoure

    Un espace traversé d’influences

    Arrivée des Ouïgours
    autour du IXe siècle
    Arrivée d’ethnies
    et musulmanes
    dès le Xe siècle
    Empire du Tibet
    entre le VIIe
    et le IXe siècles
    Expansion de l’Empire
    mongol entre le XIIe
    et XIIIe siècles
    Empire Qing jusqu’en 1911
    Différentes influences au Xinjiang
    Chine littorale
    (à l’époque contemporaine)

    En 2009, des émeutes interethniques à Urumqi font 200 morts, enclenchant une spirale de violence-répression dans le sud du Xinjiang. Les cadres communistes fouillent les foyers en quête de signes de radicalisation. Incidents et attaques se multiplient contre des représentants de l’autorité, tandis que les forces spéciales chinoises multiplient les bavures. En 2013 et 2014, la Chine connaît ses premiers attentats terroristes, perpétrés par des djihadistes ouïgours, s’inspirant parfois de groupuscules islamistes d’Asie centrale sévissant en Afghanistan, au Pakistan puis en Syrie.

    Le Xinjiang devient alors le dernier endroit où veulent aller les Han. Les migrations fléchissent, par crainte des violences. Des Han du Xinjiang, de seconde ou de troisième génération, quittent même la région pour d’autres provinces chinoises. Cela ne freine pas le développement : en 2014, un chemin de fer relie pour la première fois Hotan à Kachgar. Le train à grande vitesse s’apprête à connecter Urumqi au reste de la Chine.