News roundup: ‘Internet sovereignty’ and a noted publisher steps down
From November 15 to 18, the third World Internet Conference is taking place in the picturesque water town of Wuzhen in Zhejiang Province. The event was established in 2014, shortly after the renaming and new empowerment of the Cyberspace Administration of China, a government body with overall responsibility for digital networks. Its mission is to promote Chinese state views such as the concept of “internet sovereignty” and innovation in China.
This year’s guests include officials from China and many other countries, such as the mayor of Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto, Patrick Burt, and former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, as well as executives from Chinese and American tech giants, among them Alibaba founder Jack Ma and LinkedIn co-founder and executive chairman Reid Hoffman. Xinhua has a partial guest list; the full list can be found in session descriptions on the event’s website.
The discussion topics on the agenda are diverse and often global in scope. Some examples are China-Africa internet cooperation, the fight against cyberterrorism, and Internet+ smart health care (see SupChina’s translation of Xi Jinping’s key word glossary for “Internet+”).
At the opening ceremony, Xi Jinping gave a keynote address by video during which, as Xinhua News Agency put it, he stressed “international cooperation in cyberspace governance.” The South China Morning Post points out that many observers see the event as a strange contrast to China’s extensive internet censorship program. There’s more detail on the brief history of the World Internet Conference near the bottom of this essay; in addition, Washington Post correspondent Emily Rauhala has been tweeting live from Wuzhen, including this comment: “Trump victory, success on social is giving speakers at Chinese Internet Conference an example of the ‘need’ for greater online control.”
In other news, the South China Morning Post reports that Wang Boming, “who was instrumental” in launching the mainland stock market and the investigative financial magazine Caijing, stepped down from his corporate roles at SEEC Media Group due to “other business engagements.” Though Wang remains on the masthead as editor-in-chief of Caijing, the article speculates that China’s increasingly strict controls of media may be connected to Wang’s resignation as chairman and executive director of SEEC. Finally, this newsletter mentioned yesterday the ballot held across China to elect local officials; subsequent reports indicate that not everyone who wanted to run was permitted to.
On SupChina today, we have published a list of China news sources that we use to produce this newsletter, including notable Twitter feeds and podcasts we recommend.
Additional China stories to watch are linked below.
- China’s tech unicorns look increasingly cursed / Bloomberg
“As top government officials and tech executives gather this week in Wuzhen for the World Internet Conference, some fret the waves of cash pouring into China’s technology industry may sometimes swamp innovation, not stir it.”
- China’s driverless trucks are revving their engines / MIT Technology Review
Chinese companies may benefit from the government’s push to overhaul the trucking industry and a relative lack of regulation on the testing of autonomous vehicles in the country to surge ahead of the competition from global firms such as Volvo, Daimler and Uber.
- China internet giant Tencent’s profit jumps on games gains / WSJ
The company reported a 43 percent increase in third-quarter net profits from a year earlier, driven by growing revenues from mobile games and advertising distributed through its popular social platforms such as WeChat, which has more than 800 million users.
- China consumer group reports problems with iPhones / WSJ
The Chinese Consumers Association is looking into complaints that iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S devices have been shutting off spontaneously and won’t turn on again until they are plugged in.
- Across China, Walmart faces labor unrest as authorities stand aside / NYT
“We want a snowball effect,” says Wang Shishu, a laid-off Walmart employee who has taken a leading role in organizing the nationwide activism against the company’s labor practices in China. “We want everybody to know what to do next.”
- In Trump’s China, industrial subsidies loom large / WSJ
Chinese government subsidies are playing a larger role in the country’s business operations, which could lead to trade tensions with Donald Trump once he takes office. “Almost 14 percent of listed, nonfinancial companies’ profits are attributable to government support, according to an analysis by Wind Info. That’s up from just under 5 percent six years ago. Even among private firms, many of which have state shareholders, 11 percent of profits come from the state.”
- Is China a currency manipulator? Data say no / WSJ
Although the yuan’s decline to an eight-year low against the U.S. dollar this week would appear to support Trump’s accusations of manipulation, it is actually performing “significantly better than most other major currencies. Only when viewed against the U.S. dollar does the yuan appear weak.”
- In China, toilets have Trump’s name without his permission / NYT
Zhong Jiye, founder of the company behind the high-tech commodes, said he was unfamiliar with Donald Trump when he came up with the English name of his firm, Shenzhen Trump Industrial Company. As many as 17 of the 46 trademarks registered with the Trump name in China may not be owned by Trump himself, according to information on file with the country’s trademark office.
- China discovers the price of global power: soldiers returning in caskets / WSJ
“President Xi Jinping’s quest to make his nation a military player on the world stage provokes soul-searching as the country absorbs its first combat casualties in decades.”
- U.S. returns Chinese fugitive after 13 years on the run / WSJ
“In an act hailed by Beijing as a major diplomatic success, the U.S. sent Yang Xiuzhu back to China, where the former high official was formally arrested on corruption charges 13 years after fleeing the country.”
- Opinion: Is China ready to budge on the South China Sea? Here’s why compromise is possible / Washington Post
“For China, conceding smaller (and possibly less critical) territorial claims can serve Beijing’s larger strategic interests,” writes Eric Hyer, an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University. “In fact, one analysis shows that Beijing compromised on a majority of its territorial disputes — often to improve ties with its neighbors.”
- China websites block searches for ‘Fatty Kim the Third’ / Reuters
The mocking Chinese nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is becoming harder to find on the country’s internet, and a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that China “does not approve of insulting or ridiculing language to address any country’s leader.”
- Q&A: One of the brains behind the China Brain Project / Scientific American
Mu-Ming Poo, the director of the Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says, “If we don’t find a solution for Alzheimer’s by 2050, the entire medical system is going broke.”
- In southwest China, a ‘very large eyeball’ peers into deep space / NPR
“China has just built the world’s largest radio telescope. Known as the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, it looks like a giant silver dish, nestled among the jagged, green mountains of southwest China’s Guizhou Province.”
- China’s Arctic ambitions take shape in remote Iceland valley / Washington Post
China’s Polar Research Institute is funding the construction of a research facility near the Arctic Circle where scientists from China, Iceland and the rest of the world will study the Northern Lights.
- Teaching Mandarin: Chinese influence in Kenya’s slums / BBC News
Chinese investment in educational programs in impoverished neighborhoods around the Kenyan capital of Nairobi aims to give at-risk youth Mandarin language skills, but some residents view it with skepticism.
- China’s new ‘ultra-unreal’ fiction: Only strange art can explain it / Observer
“While many authors have turned away from a contemporary China that often seems too implausible and even outrageous to fit within the familiar worlds of socialist realism or magical realism, others have adapted, and out of these a loosely defined genre has evolved, sometimes referred to as ‘ultra-unreal.’”
- Q&A: Finding a rich vein of humor in China’s past / NYT
“China in the early 20th century — my book’s focus — was, to put it mildly, a rough-and-tumble place,” says Christopher Rea of his new book, The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China. He also sees connections to the present day, despite the repression, in how the public responds to media, how wordplay remains popular and how joking communities form.