Anti-China tariffs are ‘blatant protectionism’ – Asian Media Report

May 25, 2024
China US trade business concept as a Chinese USA tariff war and American tariffs as two opposing groups of cargo freight containers as an economic dispute or relationship over import and exports as a 3D illustration.

In Asian media this week: TikTok stage of Sino-US rivalry ‘dangerous’. Plus: Human trafficking the curse of cyber-crime; Election body tells Modi to stop dividing society; Junta’s conscription campaign flagging; Xi, Putin give West the big finger; Thailand’s dugongs casualties of climate change.

Asian newspapers reacted poorly to Joe Biden’s recent imposition of higher tariffs on Chinese EVs, semiconductors, solar cells and batteries.

The Asahi Shimbun, in the opening paragraph of an editorial, said it was nothing but blatant protectionism and a harmful form of election politics.

“It is not new that the United States, which has been acting as the leading champion of free trade, will trample on the rules that allow trade between countries with minimal or no barriers,” the paper said.

“This time, however, Washington is going too far.”

David Dodwell, a senior trade and business columnist on Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said it was unlikely that Biden’s long list of new tariffs on China’s exports, announced on May 14, had anything to do with dumping, overcapacity or unfair trade practices.

“Rather, in the short term, it has everything to do with November’s presidential election, as well as the unique standing of the US auto industry in the country’s politics and economic soul,” Dodwell wrote.

“In the long term, it has everything to do with recognising shifts in the global economy which from a US perspective – and from that of Europe – point in an unfavourable direction.”

In India, The Statesman published a column by noted economist Andrew Sheng (similar to one published by Pearls and Irritations on Wednesday), saying the tariffs were another blow to free trade.

“Everyone is waiting for some clues about China’s next move in this tit-for-tat game of US-China rivalry,” Sheng wrote.

“The world is now at a dangerous phase of electioneering excesses whereby if anyone loses his cool we could be on the way to nuclear war.

“This TikTok stage of US-China rivalry is downright dangerous.”

Beijing’s official Global Times newspaper said China’s progress in the field of new energy let developing countries buy cheaper green products. The tariffs would be a protectionist disaster for humanity.

They would weaken many countries’ ability to respond to climate change – damaging the prospects for a green energy transformation.

The Japan Times in an editorial picked up on China’s argument. “China is on to something … when it called the US move ‘self-defeating’ and one that ‘will harm the world’s green energy transition and climate action’,” it said.

“In fact, this is the heart of the matter.”

Cambodia the centre of modern slavery plague

The scourge of human trafficking, once thought of as young village girls being sold into brothels and bars or men press-ganged and trapped on fishing boats, has been transformed into a multi-billion dollar plague of cyber-crime.

Romance rackets, crypto scams, real estate cons, online gambling and extortion are now at the centre of this darkest of trades, run out of hidden compounds in secret locations.

People from across Asia have been duped into accepting false job offers and then forced to work on the scams. Those who fail to meet quotas are beaten, tortured, held for ransom or traded among criminal networks.

“Many women have been trafficked and traded,” a European rescue specialist says. “If they refuse to scam, they are offered as prizes and passed around.”

The modern scourge of human trafficking is detailed in a weekly series that, the Catholic Asian news outlet, launched on Wednesday.

In the first article, seasoned Asian reporter Luke Hunt reports on Cambodia as trafficking-central. He cites diplomatic sources as saying the trafficking industry makes $20 billion a year in Cambodia.

Hunt says that as the COVID pandemic took hold neighbouring governments were plagued with pleas for help from families whose loved ones had answered advertisements for highly paid jobs in Cambodia but had not come home. They were trapped.

In 2021, the embassies of Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan and China issued warnings about the trafficking and told Cambodia to act.

Cambodia’s line was that the stories were exaggerated.

Under pressure from China, Cambodia eventually cracked down on the operators, who moved to the Vietnam and Thailand border areas and into Laos and Myanmar, where they have taken advantage of the chaos of the civil war.

But the scourge has not been wiped out in Cambodia, with traffickers avoiding China and Southeast Asian countries, concentrating instead on people from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Parties rebuked over campaign tactics

India’s Election Commission has rebuked the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its “star campaigners” for their tactics in the current general elections. Star campaigners are popular figures nominated to campaign in given constituencies. They include, almost by definition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi’s BJP is a Hindu-nationalist party and he has made speeches marked by strong anti-Muslim themes. Muslims make up almost 15 percent of the population.

The Hindu newspaper reported the commission directed the party and its “stars” to stop using religious or communal campaign methods and not to make speeches that might divide society.

It also asked the opposition Congress party not to make statements implying that the country’s constitution might be abolished.

In an editorial, The Hindu said the commission’s intervention was a case of better late than never.

India’s election is being held in seven phases, between April 19 and June 1. Some 970 million people (out of a population of 1.4 million) are eligible to vote. The results will be declared on June 4.

The suggestion that Modi wants to change the constitution is based on his campaign aim of winning 370 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, India’s lower house – a two-thirds majority.

A long analytical piece in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said Congress argued BJP wanted a big enough majority to change the explicitly secular constitution and make India a Hindu state.

To which Modi says: “They spread lies.”

A commentary in, the Catholic Asian news site, said religion was a super weapon in a no-holds-barred election.

“Modi styles himself as the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ or ‘he who rules the hearts of the Hindus’,” the article said.

It said Modi and senior colleague Amit Shah seemed to have shocked even some Cabinet ministers with their vitriolic lampooning of Muslims – described as termites, traitors, saboteurs, infiltrators, seducers of Hindu women in a “love jihad” and people out to displace Hindus from their homeland.

Worried military threatens to jail draft resisters

Myanmar’s military junta is failing to meet its targets for its conscription intakes and is threatening draft resisters with up to three years in prison.

General Maung Maung Aye, the junta’s third-in-command, has told regional and state-level conscription bodies to make sure draft intakes meet their target.

The regime aims to conscript 5,000 men in each intake. But Defence Minister Tin Aung San has admitted the regime has faced challenges in meeting targets for its first two batches, The Irrawaddy, a Myanmar-exile news site, has reported.

Many men had fled the country, legally or illegally, the outlet said. Thousands had taken shelter with anti-regime forces.

The regime had said it would conscript unmarried women aged between 18 and 27 during the fifth draft intake.

The regime had been moving quickly to enforce its conscription law, the news site said in an introduction to an updated timeline of the implementation of the draft. Conscription was announced on February 10 and township committees began distributing call-up papers on March 13. Basic training for the first intake started on April 8.

The speed with which the junta moved was a sign of the personnel shortages it faced as it fought a multi-front war with revolutionary groups across the country, it said.

The Irrawaddy also reported that the rebel Arakan Army had launched a large-scale attack on the town of Maungdaw in Rakhine State. The ethnic army had already captured the town of Buthidaung, near the border of Bangladesh. The people in the area are predominantly Rohingya.

If the Arakan Army could capture Maungdaw, the outlet said, it would control the 270-km border with Bangladesh.

Beijing, Moscow confront US-led order

This month’s meeting between China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin shows that top US officials were deluding themselves when they played down the strength of the “no limits” partnership between the two countries, says The Straits Times senior columnist Ravi Velloor.

Velloor says the US top brass believed there was deep distrust between Moscow and Beijing.

But he notes that the statement Xi and Putin issued after their meeting talked of “deepening strategic partnership… for a new era.”

Veloor’s colleague Jonathan Eyal, the paper’s global affairs correspondent, says the meeting delivered a message to the US.

Xi and Putin are framing their relationship as part of what they see as a protracted and existential competition not only with the US but also with the US-led world order, Eyal writes.

“It marks a historic turning point with profound consequences for US and Western strategy,” he says.

In the South China Morning Post, experienced China reporter Shi Jiangtao says the meeting confirmed the worst fears of many diplomatic observers about the emergence of a new anti-West axis between Beijing and Moscow.

Shi says the post-meeting communique did not mention the phrase “no limits” but Beijing appears determined to side with Moscow against Washington.

His colleague, columnist Alex Lo, says the two leaders gave the West the big finger.

“What do you expect?” Lo asks. “You make Russia your biggest enemy and China your ‘strategic competitor’, which is one step away from declaring it an enemy…How do you think Russia and China would react?”

SCMP says in a news story the two leaders are expected to meet again in July, at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Kazakhstan.

Sea-mammal deaths a ‘climate K.O.’

Thailand’s shy and gentle dugongs are dying, casualties of climate change, as global warming dries out the seagrass they eat.

They are being forced to leave their safe and familiar habitat in search of food, into areas where people have no experience of living with dugongs, making the mammals (known colloquially as sea cows) vulnerable to boat propellers and fishing gear.

“With acres of once-submerged grasses now dried up, Thailand’s herd of 200 or so dugongs have been forced to swim north from their home,” Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported in a long feature article. “But it is proving to be an ill-starred journey.”

Bangkok Post said in a news story marine biologist Thon Thamrongnawasawat had posted on Facebook photos of four dead dugongs, found between May 7 and May 11. Thon said finding so many dead mammals in such a short period was a red alert emergency.

“As far as I can remember, there has never been a time when dugongs died so frequently.”

SCMP said dugongs were listed internationally as a vulnerable species. About 5,000 live in the Persian Gulf and the largest population – about 100,000 – is found in Australian waters. Thailand’s dugongs live in the Andaman Sea, a highly popular tourist region.

The paper quoted conservationists as saying 20 dugongs have died in Thailand so far this year, hit by boats or starved by the lack of seagrass.

Marine biologist Thon told the paper: “This is not a hit to the environment. It’s a climate K.O.”


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