John Pomfret

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The national security law that China passed last week is scary for many reasons: It severely limits free speech in Hong Kong, which had been a fixture of life for decades; it allows the authorities to take suspects from Hong Kong and try them in mainland China, where people such as the recently detained writer and law professor Xu Zhangrun are prosecuted for simply expressing their opinions; it establishes a secret police structure in Hong Kong that will operate outside of the law. And in threatening to arrest anyone who advocates Hong Kong’s independence, the law seems to assert jurisdiction over every person on the planet.…  Seguir leyendo »

If there is going to be a silver lining to the covid-19 crisis, it should involve the plucky democracy of Taiwan getting the international support it deserves. The country of 23 million people has dealt with the pandemic as well as any. As of Tuesday, Taiwan had 393 confirmed cases and six deaths, extremely low numbers for a nation on China’s doorstep. Taiwan is now even helping the rest of the world as well by churning out millions of face masks and sending them all over the globe.

Like other countries that responded effectively, Taiwan had a bad experience with SARS in 2003, so it was better prepared for an epidemic.…  Seguir leyendo »

Volunteers waving the Chinese flag send off the China national emergency medical team at the Tianhe airport in Wuhan, China, on Tuesday. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

In early 1952, the three-year-old People’s Republic of China faced a public relations crisis in the middle of the Korean War. After agreeing to let prisoners of war decide where they wanted to go after hostilities ended, officials were dismayed to learn that more than half of the 170,000 Chinese POWs had opted not to return to mainland China, an embarrassing public rejection of the communist system taking root there.

Desperate to divert the world’s attention from the POW debacle, on Feb. 22, 1952, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, claimed that U.S. forces were waging biological warfare against China.…  Seguir leyendo »

Restaurants in London's Chinatown have seen a decline in customers following the confirmation of new coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom. (Andy Rain/EPA-EFE)

At a middle school a few blocks from my house, a rumor circulated among the children that all Asian kids have the coronavirus and should be quarantined. Misinformation has also reached higher education: In college campuses across the United States, some non-Asian students have acknowledged avoiding Asian classmates for no other reason than, well, the coronavirus came from Asia.

The disease apparently emerged in December from a live-food market in Wuhan, China. There have been over 20,000 confirmed cases in China, and the World Health Organization reported 146 confirmed cases in 23 other countries. There are serious concerns of a global pandemic, but the coronavirus has also reawakened centuries-old prejudices against Chinese people.…  Seguir leyendo »

The coronavirus epidemic in China is far more than a disease; it is the most serious challenge to the rule of President Xi Jinping and the direction he has taken China since he assumed power in 2012. The stakes are extraordinarily high. It is far too early to predict the beginning of the end of Xi’s political career, but the epidemic clearly is shaking China and Xi’s way of governance to its core.

Since the Chinese revolution of 1949, the central tension inside the country’s Communist Party has been between “reds” and “experts”, between ideology and know-how. This tension has real world significance.…  Seguir leyendo »

An injured man is taken to a hospital during an uprising in Chengdu, China, on June 4, 1989. (Kim Nygaard)

In the spring of 1989, Chinese pro-democracy activists filled Beijing's Tiananmen Square. For weeks, the protesters, led by students, stood in unprecedented defiance of the Communist regime. They called for respect for human rights and greater political participation amid the ambitious economic reforms spearhead by then-leader Deng Xiaoping. The protests eventually spread to 400 cities across China. Communist Party leaders, however, saw the protests as a threat to their hold on power and the political system. On the morning of June 4, the government sent armed troops to dissolve the demonstration in Tiananmen Square, killing and arresting activists. Though there is no official death toll, estimates range from several hundred to more than 10,000.…  Seguir leyendo »

Taiwanese military maneuver during the Helicopter Landing Training and All-Out Defense Demonstration in Taipei, Taiwan on Dec. 14. (Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Chinese air force fighters have begun escorting bombers around Taiwan in “encirclement drills” and spokesmen for the Communist government have warned Taiwan to get used to it . On Wednesday, China’s president Xi Jinping, dressed in military fatigues, convened a military mobilization meeting— the first ever for the entire Chinese armed forces and commanded China’s military to become “battle ready”. Chinese officials are threatening that relations with Taiwan will turn “grave” because Taiwan’s government refuses to acknowledge that the island is part of China. A leading Chinese analyst predicts that China has accelerated its timetable to 2020 for taking over the island by military means.…  Seguir leyendo »

Donald Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has elicited a predictable response from the commentariat: shock and dismay because Trump allegedly upset the apple cart of a bipartisan consensus on how to manage China and its claims on the island of Taiwan. Trump has been accused of undoing 40 years of delicate diplomacy and making a dangerously destabilizing move.

This criticism has elements of truth, but the overblown nature of the reaction to Trump’s call also is unhelpful. Together, Trump’s shenanigans and the hyperventilation by the media could end up adding more unwarranted pressure on democratic Taiwan and could contribute to the continued narrowing of its international space.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man reads a newspaper in Beijing. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

I participated on Wednesday in a Chinese talk show on Chinese-owned Phoenix TV on the election of Donald Trump. There the glee was palpable about the victory of a man that Chinese state-run media has dubbed a “clown” and held up as an example of why the Chinese are better off living in a one-party state.

Underlying the glee was a belief of the guests, most of them leading Chinese analysts or former diplomats, that a Trump administration would cede the Western Pacific to China, downgrade its alliances with Japan and South Korea and not carry through on the candidate’s threats to slap tariffs on Chinese goods.…  Seguir leyendo »

In his memoirs, former president George W. Bush recounts a story about North Korea and China. In October 2002, he invited China’s then-president, Jiang Zemin, to his Texas ranch. North Korea was developing nuclear weapons, and Bush wanted China’s help. According to Bush, Jiang told him that “North Korea was my problem, not his.” China did nothing.

A few months later, Bush tried a different tack. He told Jiang in January 2003 that if North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continued, the United States would not be able to stop Japan from developing its own nuclear arsenal. Still nothing. A month later he warned China that if the problem was not solved diplomatically he would consider a military strike against North Korea.…  Seguir leyendo »

The tension in the East China Sea between China and Japan is America’s problem. Sure, there are all sorts of reasons war will “never” break out — from “it just wouldn’t make sense” to “everybody is making too much money to fight.” But given the history of the region and the lack of rules for handling such crises, the reality is that one stupid mistake could start a war. Since the United States is obligated by treaty to defend Japan if it is attacked, it falls to Washington to make sure a conflict does not erupt.

Over the past several months, Tokyo and Beijing have played a game of chicken, in the streets, on the seas, in the air and through the airwaves over a cluster of three uninhabited islands and two big rocks called the Senkakus by the Japanese and the Diaoyu Islands by the Chinese.…  Seguir leyendo »

The term “Chinese company” has become a buzzword for some type of seven-headed hydra with links back to the Chinese Communist Party, out to filch trade secrets, infiltrate the homeland and throw Americans out of work. The latest use of the term involves hyperventilation about the successful bid of the U.S. subsidiary of one of the world’s biggest auto-parts manufacturers for a Massachusetts firm that makes batteries.

This month, a Delaware bankruptcy judge approved Wanxiang America’s $256.6 million bid for battery manufacturer A123. Several Republican senators demanded an investigation. The Strategic Materials Advisory Council, a coalition of former U.S. military leaders and industry specialists, urged the U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

The past two months in China have revealed something profound about the outsized expectations that China and the United States have for each other and the often-feeble returns on what many call the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

Many Chinese place the United States on a pedestal that looms even higher from the capital of a nation facing a deep crisis in belief. The Chinese vest the United States with a moral authority that Americans are flattered by but are often loath to accept. For its part, the United States, in need of a hand around the globe, wants China to start acting like a superpower.…  Seguir leyendo »

On June 14, 1989, I was in the Associated Press bureau in Beijing. I had just filed a story about the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in China's capital. As the sun streamed through the office's grubby windows, the phone rang.

"This is the police in charge of resident foreigners in China," a male voice on the other end announced. "Are you Pan Aiwen?" He was using my Chinese name.

"Yes," I replied.

"You are ordered to appear at our bureau immediately," he said. Click.

Three days later, I was on a plane bound for Hong Kong, expelled from China. Officially, I stood accused of stealing state secrets and violating martial law provisions.…  Seguir leyendo »