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China Story Blog: Q2/2021

Articles from April to June 2021
China Story Blog: Q2/2021


In addition to China Neican, we also edit the China Story Blog. Launched in April 2020, the blog is a part of the China Story Project run by the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University.

Please find below for your interest a list of the articles that we published from the most recent quarter.

Also, for those of you actively researching or commenting on China issues, the blog is open for submissions. For more information, see our Submission Guidelines.

— Adam & Yun


  • Dairy: the deep historical link between China and Japan (Jeffrey Kotyk): The production of dairy products was an important industry that was transmitted from China to Japan as early as the seventh century. This industry is often overlooked in discussions of historical Sino-Japanese relations. It highlights the need for us to be more aware of the deeper historical connections, including the transfer of material culture, between China and Japan.
  • Beyond Hawke’s Tiananmen Tears (Tandee Wang): Former [Australian] prime minister Bob Hawke’s tearful and unilateral offer of asylum to Chinese students after the Tiananmen Square massacre has become a common fixture in Australian media accounts of that event, especially since his death in 2019. Widely praised as an example of Hawke’s exemplary leadership, this popular story not only reinforces Hawke’s own political legacy, but also supports a national narrative of Australia as a generous and welcoming place for outsiders of all cultures. But like many political myths and self-serving national stories, this account has only a tenuous relationship to historical evidence.
  • Why Does Paraguay Recognize Taiwan and Shun China? (Tom Long & Francisco Urdinez): Only 15 countries worldwide maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan as of May 2021. Among those, Paraguay stands out as Taiwan’s only South American ally. As a consequence of its recognition policy, the country missed out on the Chinese finance received by its neighbours. However, beyond simple ‘checkbook diplomacy’ Paraguay uses its diplomatic recognition policy for a particular form of small-state status-seeking.


  • Perceptions and Frustrations: Chinese Companies in the Global South (Denghua Zhang & Liang Chen): Chinese companies have been at the forefront of China’s rapidly expanding footprint in the Global South in the past two decades. In their engagement with Chinese companies, some local officials and communities in Asia, Africa and the Pacific marvel at the speed of construction by Chinese companies. This so-called“China speed”, largely achieved through efficient management and hardwork of Chinese labour, often faces local challenges. In Ethiopia, for instance, some Chinese engineers think local Ethiopian supervisors are unnecessarily strict with their oversight duties, which suggests the agency of local societies in their interaction with Chinese companies.


  • Time to speak louder on Australians detained in the PRC (Elena Collinson): In the cases of Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei, currently detained in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on national security grounds, it seems that quiet diplomacy has run its course. While public efforts by the Australian government to advocate for these two Australian citizens have been stepped up, more ought to be done. The plight of these two Australian detainees should be more frequently highlighted in major speeches by senior ministers and the Australian public provided with more information about the risks associated with travel to the PRC in the current circumstances.
  • China’s poverty ‘eliminated’ but substantial inequalities remain (Camille Boullenois): Despite the Chinese government declaring that absolute poverty has been eliminated in China, its poverty alleviation efforts have done little to address growing inequalities. In fact, Chinese policymakers now widely recognise income inequalities as a threat to sustainable development. Yet the government’s approach to the issue is unlikely to change, because poverty alleviation continues to be seen through a rural-urban issue even as inequality within rural areas and cities continue to grow.
  • Judicial (In)dependence Under Xi (Xin He): The high-profile court reforms, initiated at the fourth plenum of the 18th CCP Party Central Committee in 2014, are now complete. On the surface, many reform measures appear to boost judicial independence and Chinese judges’ prestige. But in reality, the regime has further tightened the control of the judiciary and its judges.
  • VIEWPOINTS: Detention of Australians in China (Melissa Conley Tyler, Han Yang, Elena Collinson): There are currently two Australians detained in China on national security grounds: Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei. Both of them were arrested for national security reasons by Chinese authorities. How did bilateral friction play into their detention? What message was Beijing trying to send? While the answers to these questions remain somewhat unclear and debated, we asked three observers of Australia-China relations for their thoughts on how the Australian Government should approach such cases.