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China will “think twice” before initiating a war with Taiwan, says expert on Chinese military strategies

The People’s Liberation Army, China’s massive yet untested military force since the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979, is prepared but will not take rush actions despite heightened tension along China’s borders, according to a renowned China observer.

Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan, author of the new book Facing China: The Prospect for War and Peace shared his insights with nearly 100 FCC members during his lunch talk at the club, digging into China’s military strategies in the past decade. The talk was moderated by William Zheng, an FCC Professional Committee member who works full-time as a Senior Correspondent on SCMP’s China desk.

The talk came just days after mainland China and Taiwan’s government representatives traded accusations over the death of two mainland fishermen, causing a new round of tension on the world’s most dangerous waters.

Besides Taiwan, the East and South China Seas, the Sino-Indian border, and the Taiwan strait are the main forefronts where China’s military stands. Across the world, diplomats, generals, scholars, and journalists analyze China’s military strategies and attempt to predict how the country would fare in these potential conflicts.

“Nuclear powers have to think twice about starting a military confrontation,” Cabestan said early on.

China, as well as 8 other countries, have nuclear capabilities. In order to avoid nuclear warfare (or any kind of warfare), Cabestan explained that China’s military strategy consists of “grey zone” tactics — movements and operations that stay under the threshold of official combat. According to him, these grey zone tactics are fueled by China’s growing military capabilities and nationalist passion.

“China’s become more assertive, more risk-taking than before, but up to a point,” he said, noting how each of China’s moves are carefully calculated.

The focus of the discussion, as well as Cabestan’s new book, was on China’s potential conflict with Taiwan.

China views Taiwan as a “renegade province” that must be reunited with the mainland — by force if necessary. After the Chinese Civil War in 1949 in which the Communist Party succeeded in gaining control over the mainland, the Kuomintang Party relocated to Taiwan and established a de-facto state with their own currency, political system, military, and infrastructure.

The rest of the world now must follow the One-China Policy and establish official ties with either the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland or the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. As of 2024, the ROC has only 11 diplomatic allies.

“The clear admission in Taiwan that Taiwan may be part of China for some, but it’s not part of the Communist Party. It’s not controlled by the Communist Party,” Cabestan said.

Cabestan clarified that while a war between China and Taiwan would result in devastating consequences for Asia and the rest of the globe, he remains optimistic that such a conflict is unlikely to happen. Even more unworried about the risk of conflict are the people in Taiwan themselves.

A trip to Taiwan, Cabestan says, can show that the average person in Taiwan isn’t deterred by the threat of war and can still go about their daily life in peace.

“If you go to Taiwan… there’s no sense of panic or fear,” he said. “It [war] is still far away from affecting the morale of the Taiwanese.”

Still, countries including Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the US are committed to defending Taiwan if the PRC were to launch an attack on the island. The US, while establishing ties with the PRC in 1979, simultaneously passed the Taiwan Relations Act which solidifies the US’ commitment to helping defend Taiwan should the PRC attack.

The US, like China, has nuclear capabilities, yet this fact is precisely why Cabestan predicts peace for the region — instead of war.

“We have to bear in mind that we have two nuclear powers here [the US and China] which are involved in the security of Taiwan — the future of Taiwan. I think the Chinese will think twice before starting a war against Taiwan,” Cabestan concluded.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

FCC Submission on the Consultation Document of Article 23 of the Basic Law

On February 28, The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong sent the following submission to the Security Bureau on the Consultation Document of Article 23 of the Basic Law.

FCC panelists differ on how Hong Kong’s Article 23 will impact the city’s journalists

Following up on his vow to pass Article 23 of the Basic Law, Chief Executive John Lee and the HKSAR government announced a four-week public consultation period for the bill in late January. Article 23, originally shelved in 2003 after mass protests against it, enables the city to enact laws prohibiting seven offenses – including treason, espionage, and theft of state secrets.

The government claims that Article 23 will “plug the gaps” that aren’t covered by the National Security Law that Beijing imposed on the city in June 2020. Various sectors have urged the government to clarify terms like “national security” and “state secrets”, as well as to lengthen the public consultation period, which ends on February 28.

On February 19, the FCC held a Club Lunch moderated by President Lee Williamson in which a panel of government, journalism, and legal experts shared their thoughts on the bill.

Regina Ip, Ronson Chan, and Lee Williamson. Photo: FCC

“I think the proposals are actually less broad or ‘sweeping’ than a lot of the similar proposals introduced by other common law jurisdictions,” said Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, Convenor of the Executive Council.

Ip was the Secretary for Security in 2003 when Article 23 was originally proposed. She stepped down after mass protests caused the HKSAR government to shelve the bill, but eventually returned to the government in 2008 when she was elected as a member of the Legislative Council.

Sitting alongside Ip was Ronson Chan, Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA). When asked about Article 23’s impact on journalism, Chan referenced a recent HKJA survey in which 75% of respondents indicated that the law would negatively affect their work.

“It is very easy for journalists to feel [in danger] in their work and I think that it may affect the atmosphere for the freedom of press. So that’s why we are highly concerned about the legislation,” Chan said.

Chan also emphasised the need for the government to clarify what are state secrets, otherwise journalists may inadvertently violate Article 23 while waiting for the government’s official response for a story.

“It still has to be a secret,” said Professor Simon Young, the Ian Davies Professor of Ethics at The University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law, who also sat on the panel. “I would think it is something you would reasonably expect to be confidential.”

Young further elaborated that the acquisition, possession, and disclosure of a state secret all need to meet the same mens rea – knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe it is a state secret and intending to endanger national security by sharing it.

Simon Young and Regina Ip. Photo: FCC

“It’s not just any kind of knowledge or disclosure. You have to show that that person really intended to endanger national security. If they’re doing legitimate journalism business, then it’s unlikely that they would have that intention,” Young concluded.

Ip, on the other hand, didn’t believe Article 23 would harm the work of Hong Kong’s journalists.

“I don’t think the media really needs to worry,” she said early on in the discussion, but later emphasized that there is “no absolute freedom of speech” when asked if people in Hong Kong should worry about Article 23 criminalizing free speech.

Chan agreed with Ip that there is no absolute freedom of speech, but that efforts should still be made in order to clarify what free speech means in Hong Kong.

“The red line is floating and moving,” he said. “I think we need to distinguish the differences [of free speech] from Hong Kong and the outside world.”

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

A Message from the President

 

      “As mid-term report cards go, I’m satisfied with the progress we’ve made thus far and confident that we can build on what we have achieved in
the Year of the Dragon.”
      
     
Dear FCC members,
When I wrote my first president’s letter in June 2023, I laid out six priorities that I aimed to achieve as president. Six months later, halfway through the Board year, I’m writing to share updates on the progress we have made towards achieving these goals.
1) Resume issuing press freedom statements
We have issued six press freedom statements in the past six months, making our voice heard after a period of prolonged silence. In my policy statement, I made a pledge to lead with pragmatism—to engage in the issues and make our substantial voice count while safeguarding the future of the FCC. With several key verdicts expected in the coming months, we will not deviate from this path. More than 50 civil society organisations have disbanded in the last three years. It’s vital that the FCC remains standing as an independent voice, steadfast in its mission to defend press freedom and support journalists.
2) Appoint a new permanent GM
As previously communicated, David Brightling has been appointed as the next general manager of the FCC, having joined the team at the end of January. An experienced GM, David has managed multiple prestigious clubs in Asia across his decades-long career and was most recently GM at the Tanglin Club. I’m confident he will elevate our already high standards and improve the member experience. 
 
3) Build on last year’s training stream for early-career journalists
After a successful fundraising event, over the last few months we have hosted subsidised workshops on digital security, covering China and presenting skills aimed at early-career journalists.
4) Bring back the FCC’s Journalism Conference
The conference will return on April 13 after a five-year absence. With a mission to inform and uplift, we are building the programme to help journalists equip themselves with the knowledge and tools they need. Expect talks and panels on China, climate journalism, mental health, artificial intelligence and more.
5) Develop community outreach initiatives
The Board voted to reinstate the club’s long-dormant Charity Committee this autumn, with Correspondent governor Morgan Davis taking the lead as convenor. More than a dozen members have joined the rejuvenated committee to help the club make a positive impact in the community.
6) Make diversity a priority at FCC speaking events
The Professional Committee has started to track gender representation at FCC speaking events. In the last three months of 2023, 43 percent of our speakers were women. We will continue to monitor and strive for parity.
As mid-term report cards go, I’m satisfied with the progress we’ve made thus far and confident that we can build on what we have achieved in the Year of the Dragon. I’m tremendously grateful to the Board of Governors and all committee members for their support of these priorities and for the countless hours that have been put in behind the scenes over the last six months. It really does take a village.
 
 
As always, I welcome all feedback on how we can improve.
 

Lee Williamson
President
[email protected]

A Message from the General Manager

      
Dear members,
It is a pleasure for me to write my first note as your General Manager.
I have enjoyed a warm welcome from members and staff alike since my arrival on Monday 29th January. I have already noticed familiar faces at familiar spaces around the main bar and I now know where the lawyers and photographers sit! You will see me around the club well into the evening – especially on Friday nights – and I ask for your patience and understanding as it will take me a while to connect all the names and faces.
Member feedback is very important, and I appreciate the many comments and suggestions I have received to date. FCC members are certainly passionate about their club! Comment Cards are shared with me and discussed with the management team, and a summary is presented to the House/F&B Committee and to the Board each month. The team is also planning a comprehensive Membership Survey for March. This will enable us to gather statistically valid data on member satisfaction with our various outlets, programmes, events and facilities. Ample space will be provided for comments which, while not statistically valid, help to provide context to the numerical scores and will assist us in identifying opportunities for improvement. The scores will be cross tabulated with demographic information so that we can understand the needs and wants of our diverse, multinational membership.
I encourage you to participate in this important initiative. Survey data is very valuable for the Board, its various committees, management and staff. Results will be shared with each of these groups and with the membership through The Correspondent magazine and will form the basis of planning for the future. Survey results are also invaluable for me, as your new General Manager, as they will help me to clearly understand what members want and to plan and prioritize accordingly for the months ahead. We are also planning three lucky draw prizes for survey participants, which we will announce in late February.
Finally, a word about our staff. The FCC is blessed with a dedicated, hard-working, warm and welcoming team, some of whom have worked at the club for decades. I am enjoying working with them and look forward to giving them the tools they need to help to improve the club’s already high standards. They are an integral part of your experience at the club, and I know how much they are valued and appreciated.
I look forward to seeing you around the club in the weeks and months ahead.
 
Kung Hei Fat Choy!
Yours faithfully,

David

David Brightling
General Manager
[email protected]

Festive Season Opening Hours

New Monthly Subscription Fees from 2024

New Monthly Subscription Fees from 2024
      
Dear Members,
I’m writing to inform you that the Board of Governors has voted to increase monthly subscriptions for all categories of membership by HK$100 per month, to HK$1,300, effective from January 1 2024. Joining fees will be unchanged.
I’m proud that the FCC remains one of the best value clubs in the city—even with this latest amendment to our fees—but we must balance value for members with the long-term financial health of the club.
In 2022, the club increased monthly subscriptions for the first time in seven years. With only one increment over the better part of a decade, our fees remain behind inflation. To remedy this moving forward, the Board has also made a commitment to review monthly subs on an annual basis.
One way that we can all help to increase club revenue is to recruit more members. If you’re successful, of course, the HK$1,000 club credit you’ll receive for recruiting a new member will pay for almost all of this year’s increase in subs fees—the definition of a win-win!
On behalf of the Board, I wish you a happy and peaceful festive season.
Yours faithfully,
Lee Williamson
President
[email protected]

In loving memory of John McBeth

    
 John McBeth
May 31 1944 – December 7 2023
 
Of all the foreign correspondents who have worked in southeast Asia over the past six decades, none surpassed John McBeth in dedication to his craft and the esteem and friendship of his colleagues.
 
As a young and adventurous journalist from Taranaki, he left the Auckland Star en route to London. He never got there. Stopping off by chance in Indonesia he found a new Asian home and field for his talents.
 
Working in Bangkok for a variety of publications and agencies, he was an early recruit to Asiaweek, then in 1979 joined the Far Eastern Economic Review where he was to remain until its 2004 closure. He was in a Bangkok bureau with such talents as Rodney Tasker and Paisal Sricharatchnya and close friend of Neil Davis, the noted war cameraman killed in an abortive Thai coup. Eased out of his Bangkok comfort zone to Seoul, he distinguished himself covering the turmoil and political change of the late 80s and, with colleague Nayan Chanda, scooping the world on the North Korean nuclear programme.
 
From there it was to Manila and a still much-quoted series on the nation’s regional warlords. He then had a medical issue which resulted in the amputation of one leg. This trauma would have killed the spirits of most journalists, but with the never ending support of his wife Yuli Ismartono, the correspondent for Tempo he had met in Bangkok, he overcame the challenge. It is hard to overstate the importance of their bond.
 
They moved to Jakarta where he again distinguished himself with coverage of the latter Suharto years and then turmoil which followed his downfall. After the Review’s closure he wrote a regular column on Indonesia for the Straits Times and contributed to other publications and in 2011 wrote an entertaining book accurately entitled “Reporter: Forty Years Covering Asia”.

He had some strong opinions but never let them get in the way of accurate reporting delivered cleanly and on time.

As a colleague, he was always good company. Good friends included not just his immediate workmates but correspondents at large, not least FCC immediate past president Keith Richburg.

He seemed indestructible and was in fine form when I saw him just three months ago. But such is aging. Now we mourn with Yuli the passing of someone who has left us with so many good memories and a permanent record of good journalism.

Philip Bowring

China’s Great Wall is the world’s largest, best open museum in the world says William Lindesay OBE

The Great Wall of China is one of the country’s most famous tourist attractions. It stretches across several cities and provinces, but only a handful of sections are easily accessible and have since become the popular visiting locations of both Chinese and foreign tourists.

William Lindesay, while already fascinated by the Great Wall, is even more fascinated by the sections that are found deep in the wilderness and he has built a life dedicated to the education and preservation of the Great Wall.

Lindesay spoke about his life’s work at an FCC Club Lunch on November 21st. Sitting alongside him was FCC Journalist Board Member Joe Pan, as well as copies of his latest book Wild Wall. The new two-volume series documents Lindesay’s life from his first trip to China in 1986 to his most recent endeavors.

William Lindesay and Joe Pan. Photo: FCC

He began the talk by explaining how he first became interested in the Great Wall back when he was a schoolboy. His headmaster said that all his students should have a Bible, a prayer book, and an atlas at their bedside. Lindesay loved his copy of the Oxford Atlas, and when he saw the geographic symbols representing the Great Wall, he instantly knew what he wanted to do when he grew up.

“As soon as I saw that symbol on the Wall, I could see my future,” he said.

Lindesay talked to his headmaster about his idea of studying geography at university and then traveling to China to explore the Great Wall. It was 1967 at the time, and the headmaster was supportive, but gave the young Lindesay honest advice.

“That’s a marvelous idea, William,” his headmaster began. “But you know, I don’t know anyone who’s ever been to China. But maybe in your lifetime, the situation will change.”

Lindesay ended up studying geography at the University of Liverpool, but didn’t make his first trip to China until he was 28 years old. His plan was to become the first foreigner to make a journey across the Great Wall, which resulted in him being stopped 9 times by police for trespassing.

He pressed on. His actions earned him the self-described reputation as China’s first ever “serial foreign trespasser” with many of the tickets and fines he paid being the very first of their kind. He was also arrested twice before eventually being deported from the country.

Hong Kong played a special part in his deportation in that he was able to come to the city and get a new passport to re-enter the mainland and continue his journey. Lindesay expressed his gratitude for Hong Kong playing a crucial part in his life.

William Lindesay. Photo: FCC

In total, Lindesay traveled nearly 2,500 kilometers along the Great Wall by foot — an easy task for the experienced marathon runner. Along the way he received much praise and recognition from both the British and Chinese governments. The highest of his awards include the Friendship Award, China’s highest award for foreign experts, and being knighted as an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. 

During this journey was also when Lindesay met his wife Wu Qi who he has been married to for the past 35 years. Their sons, Jimmy and Tommy, also share their father’s fascination with the Great Wall, and they went so far as to — quite literally — follow their father’s footsteps along the Wall in 2022 while China was still under heavy restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

But they were determined to outdo their father by traveling a total of 3,800 kilometers, starting in Jiayuguan and traveling to “Old Dragon’s Head,” the most eastern part of the Great Wall that ends at the Bohai Sea. 

“We’re a family of wall-nuts,” Lindesay said with a chuckle.

In the talk, Lindesay also shared stories about how he and his wife bought a farmhouse near Jiankou, how he began his Great Wall conservation efforts, becoming a full-time tour guide, and China’s improving policies towards preserving the Great Wall.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

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