Ian Williams

China’s Arctic ambitions should trouble the West

Four Chinese warships were spotted off the coast of Alaska last weekend. According to the US coast guard, the ships were in the Bering Sea around 124 miles from the Aleutian Islands. They were inside America’s exclusive economic zone, which extends to 200 miles, but within international waters. ‘We met presence with presence to ensure there were no disruptions to US interests,’ said a coastguard commander, as he monitored their progress. The Chinese were within their rights to be there, but the uneasy standoff was another example of Beijing boosting its presence around the Arctic. One of Russia’s leading Arctic scientists, was arrested and charged with treason This time they

How Edinburgh kowtowed to Beijing

Zhang Biao, Beijing’s man in Scotland, warned earlier this month that a proposed friendship agreement between Edinburgh City Council and Taiwan’s southern city of Kaohsiung would ‘hurt the feeling[s] of the Chinese people’. The people of China, from Shenzhen to Harbin – all 1.4 billion of them – can sleep easy tonight: the proposal has been pulled from the council’s agenda. Whether it will reappear is unclear. The city’s leader, Cammy Day, has announced that ‘more discussion is required before taking this agreement forward’. Discussions which could presumably, if necessary, go on indefinitely.  Edinburgh Airport feared the agreement could harm work to increase the number of direct flights to China Anyone with

China’s ‘soft siege’ of Taiwan

‘There is only one China in the world,’ Wang Wenbin, the spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, declared at a press conference late last month. ‘Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.’ The previous day, on 23 May, Beijing carried out major military exercises around the island under the title ‘Joint-Sword 2024A.’ The Chinese Communist party (CCP) said it wanted to practise how to ‘seize power’ in Taiwan, and to ‘punish’ its new leader, Lai Ching-te, and his supporters in the US. J-16 aircraft and Type 052D destroyers – some of China’s best military assets – led the exercises, surrounding Taiwan and practising bombing runs. In recent months, as China’s

Max Jeffery

Max Jeffery, David Shipley, Patrick Kidd, Cindy Yu, and Hugh Thomson

33 min listen

On this week’s Spectator Out Loud: Max Jeffery interviews Afghan resistance leader Ahmad Massoud (1:13); former prisoner David Shipley ponders the power of restorative justice (8:23); Patrick Kidd argues that the Church should do more to encourage volunteers (14:15); Cindy Yu asks if the tiger mother is an endangered species (21:06); and, Hugh Thomson reviews Mick Conefrey’s book Fallen, examining George Mallory’s tragic Everest expedition (26:20). Produced and presented by Patrick Gibbons.

Ian Williams

Putin and Xi’s anti-West alliance is strengthening

The visit by Russian president Vladimir Putin to the north-eastern Chinese city of Harbin today was no doubt designed as a symbol of the tightening economic relationship between the two countries. Harbin is a gateway for their burgeoning trade; the Russian leader was there to open a China-Russia expo. In the minds of many Chinese nationalists, though, Harbin has far darker symbolism. ‘Little Moscow’, as the city is sometimes called, was established by Russian settlers at the end of the nineteenth century and was the administrative centre of the Russian-built Chinese Eastern Railway. This was an imperialist project to give Russia a shortcut to Vladivostok and the Russian Far East,

Russia and China have never been equal partners

Barely a week after inaugurating himself as president once again, Vladimir Putin has gone to China – his first foreign trip of his new term. He is accompanied by a rarely seen entourage of all the principal ministers of state, the head of the Russian central bank, leading industrialists and top managers of state-controlled companies.  Along with all the pomp and grandeur laid on by the Chinese, this cast list provides a handy illustration of the deepening friendship and cooperation between the two superpowers. Moscow and Beijing have a history of ‘eternal friendship’. But Russia and China have never truly been equal partners in their friendship with benefits. Putin and

Cindy Yu

Slavoj Zizek, Angus Colwell, Svitlana Morenets, Cindy Yu, and Philip Hensher

32 min listen

On this week’s Spectator Out Loud: Philosopher Slavoj Zizek takes us through his diary including his Britney Spears Theory of Action (1:08); Angus Colwell reports from the front line of the pro-Palestinian student protests (8:09); Svitlana Morenets provides an update on what’s going on in Georgia, where tensions between pro-EU and pro-Russian factions are heading to a crunch point (13:51); Cindy Yu analyses President Xi’s visit to Europe and asks whether the Chinese leader can keep his few European allies on side (20:52); and, Philip Hensher proposes banning fun runs as a potential vote winner (26:01).  Produced by Patrick Gibbons and Oscar Edmondson.

Cindy Yu

What Xi wants in Europe

On a quiet street in Belgrade, a bronze statue of Confucius stands in front of a perforated white block, the new Chinese Cultural Centre. This is on the former site of the Chinese embassy which in 1999 was bombed by US-led Nato forces during the Kosovo war. Three Chinese nationals were killed. The Americans said the bombing was an accident, but the deaths allowed China and Serbia to share a common anti-Nato grievance. This week, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the bombing, Xi Jinping visited Belgrade and talked about the Sino-Serbian ‘bond forged with the blood of our compatriots’. He had been expected to visit the embassy

Ian Williams

Why is the UK not blaming China for the MoD hack?

The personal details of members of the UK’s armed forces appear to have been the latest target of China’s prolific cyber spies, with the Ministry of Defence’s payroll system containing the names, bank details and some addresses of up to 272,000 people on its books targeted by hackers. The government though is directing its fury at the hapless MoD contractor whose systems were breached, rather than the suspected perpetrators in Beijing. Defence secretary Grant Shapps said the attack was carried out in recent days and was ‘the suspected work of a malign actor’. He would not name the actor, though in multiple background briefings China was identified as prime suspect

Ian Williams

The rusting Philippine ship raising US-China tensions

The rusting and disintegrating hulk of a former Second World War landing ship has become an unlikely but dangerous flashpoint in US-China relations. The Sierra Madre, built for the US navy to land tanks, has for several decades been stranded on a shoal in the South China Sea. But now it has become a symbol of Beijing’s growing aggression in the region and its disdain for international law. The Philippines, which bought the ship in 1976, intentionally grounded her on the largely submerged Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly islands in 1999 to defend their claim to the territory. There she has remained to this day as a lonely symbol of sovereignty and home to a small contingent of Philippine marines. For many years,

Ian Williams

US businesses are falling out of love with Xi’s Chinese dream

A US diplomat in Beijing once told me a story of an American businessman hospitalised in the city of Ningbo after being hit at the airport by an electric buggy that was ferrying a group of Chinese VIPs who were late for their flight. The authorities confiscated his passport, demanding he pay for the damage to the buggy before he could leave. The diplomat was outraged, but when he got to Ningbo to provide help, the businessman told him to go home, explaining that he wanted to pay the fine since he was on the cusp of a big deal and didn’t want to upset the authorities. To the diplomat

China’s threats to Kinmen should be taken seriously

When two Chinese fisherman died last month trying to flee Taiwan’s coastguard, Beijing laid the blame at Taipei’s feet and demanded an apology. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also spied an opportunity to advance its territorial claims. China has been targeting Kinmen, an island controlled by Taiwan, more aggressively over the past few weeks. The CCP stated that ‘there is no such thing as “prohibited or restricted waters”’ – saying that the waters around the island had been used as traditional fishing grounds by both sides. On the morning of 19 February, four Chinese coast guard vessels patrolled around Kinmen’s restricted waters. Personnel boarded and inspected a Taiwanese tourist boat that had ‘veered slightly of course’. The next day, a

Ian Williams

Hungary has become China’s useful idiot

This week a security deal was announced that could see Chinese police on the streets of Hungary. Despite this, there was remarkably little fanfare about the agreement – just a few vague details in public statements made days after the deal was signed between the interior ministers of the two countries. Yet is represents another troubling challenge by Hungary’s authoritarian leader Viktor Orban to both Nato and the EU, of which he remains an increasingly troublesome member. The security pact will involve ‘enhancing cooperation in law enforcement and joint patrols,’ according to the Hungarian statement, while the Chinese version said the two countries would, ‘deepen cooperation in areas including counter-terrorism,

How the Chinese markets lost faith in the CCP

Ahead of the Chinese new year holiday, Beijing has been intervening to prop up the country’s stock markets. Regulators have tightened market trading conditions, and this week the head of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, Yi Huiman, was fired abruptly, presumably as the fall-guy for the relentless decline in the markets, which have lost about $6 trillion in value since the end of 2021. There is a palpable concern about financial instability in China that travels all the way up to Xi Jinping Chinese equity prices have touched their lowest levels since 2018, and are not far from the lows reached in the 2015-16 financial crisis. Mr Yi’s two predecessors were also fired

The devastating cost of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan

The next twelve months will be dominated by elections, with polls expected in at least 64 countries. Of these, there are only a few that really matter in geopolitical terms. The US elections of course, especially if won by an isolationist Donald Trump (assuming he is allowed to run). India’s parliamentary elections in April will help steer the course of a superpower for the future. And in Europe, the rise of populist parties may well change the direction of the EU in the years to come. But perhaps the most consequential one has just happened this weekend, in Taiwan, where William Lai has just been elected president. There is significant

Why China benefits from the Maldives’ spat with India

Think of the Maldives and you’re likely to conjure up images of expensive honeymoons and golden beaches, but the archipelago is also the focus of an extraordinary spat with India. The Maldives’ high commissioner was summoned by the Indian government last week after three Maldivian deputy ministers published derogatory posts on X/ Twitter, labelling Indian prime minister Narendra Modi a ‘terrorist’, ‘clown’ and ‘puppet of Israel’. One message even compared India to cow dung. The fallout from this imbroglio has been swift. The trio were suspended and the posts have now been deleted. But India is furious: the hashtags #BoycottMaldives and #ExploreIndianIslands have been trending and there have been reports

Ian Williams

China calls the shots in its alliance with Russia

There has been a strange atmosphere at recent top level meetings between ‘best friends’ China and Russia. It is not so much the elephant in the room as the pipeline running through it, with Moscow almost over-eager to talk about what has been billed as one of their most important joint economic projects, while Beijing has been doing its best to change the subject. That project is the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline, which is supposed to carry 50 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas a year from the Yamal region in northern Russia to China, by way of Mongolia. It was conceived more than a decade ago

Ian Williams

Taiwan’s voters defy Beijing

Taiwan’s voters have defied Beijing’s threats and intimidation and elected as president the most independence-minded of the candidates for the job. After a typically boisterous election, Lai Ching-te of the China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) declared victory Saturday evening, having received just over 40 per cent of the vote in Taiwan’s first-past-the-post system. ‘We’ve written a new page for Taiwan’s history of democracy,’ he told reporters, after winning by a bigger margin than expected. Hou Yu-ih from the more China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) came second with 33.4 per cent, while Ko Wen-je of the populist Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) received 26.4 per cent. There was no immediate reaction on Saturday from Beijing, which had denounced Lai, 64, as a dangerous separatist and ‘a troublemaker through and through’. The Chinese Communist party

When will the West stand up to Xi Jinping?

Since the Umbrella Movement democracy protests in 2014, China’s president Xi Jinping has been dismantling Hong Kong’s freedoms – and its very democratic essence – in plain sight. The culmination of the city-state’s metamorphosis from open society to authoritarianism is marked by the trial of Hong Kong entrepreneur, media mogul and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai, which began a week before Christmas and resumed on 2 January. Initially the erosion of Hong Kong’s way of life was gradual. But over the past four years, since the imposition of a draconian national security law in June 2020, the destruction has been rapid, far-reaching and comprehensive. Freedoms of expression, assembly, association and of

How China is weaponising trade against Taiwan

Why should we care that Beijing has suspended tariff relief for 12 Taiwanese petrochemical products? The move certainly lacks the fear factor which Chinese military manoeuvres around Taiwan generate – exercises which have become more routine and grander in scale during 2023. Yet China’s economic warfare against Taiwan is just as pernicious. It is also premeditated, with moves on this front aligning with key moments in Taiwan’s political calendar and developments in the country’s relationship with the United States. By targeting specific products with restrictions and sanctions, Beijing seeks to punish both the Taiwanese people and their government. What’s more, while it seems unlikely to win the hearts of the former, these punitive