News roundup: China bans ivory trade, Trump-China update and Bitcoin surges
TODAY’S TOP STORIES
China bans ivory trade
In a “historic” announcement at the very end of 2016, China decided to totally phase out its legal ivory market in one year’s time. The policy was heralded as a “game changer” by both the World Wildlife Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The move had been anticipated for over a year, since President Xi Jinping announced a joint effort with the U.S. to enact “nearly complete bans” on ivory trade.
In the days after the announcement, commentary on the ban took a decidedly pessimistic turn. Some immediately questioned whether China would adequately enforce the new rules. Wildlife experts in Africa took a very cautious view of the development (paywalled link). The New York Times pointed out secondary motives for the ban: that it “reinforced” President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign and “allowed China to burnish its image” as an environmental leader (also paywalled). Others noted that until major neighboring markets like Vietnam, Thailand and Japan are shut down, no amount of enforcement in China is likely to seriously dampen demand for ivory in East Asia.
The uncertain future of Sino-American relations after Donald Trump becomes president continues to generate headlines. Politico profiled Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick for commerce secretary, who has fallen in line with the president-elect’s tough talk on China in recent months, but has a long history of business and cultural ties with the People’s Republic. Ross has assembled “a formidable collection of Chinese art,” contributed to relief efforts after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and spoken approvingly of the Chinese Communist Party’s five-year plans.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Trump has chosen China critic Robert Lighthizer to head the U.S. Trade Representative office. And this morning, Trump himself tweeted the following: “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!”
In addition, the China scholar Geremie Barmé has published an essay on the similarities between Mao Zedong and Trump, noting “some disturbing parallels” between the chairman and the president-elect.
State support for digital currency technology as Bitcoin surges above $1,000
As predicted in the SupChina Q&A with Bitcoin entrepreneur Eric Mu, published at the beginning of December, the price of the virtual currency has broken through the $1,000 level. Many analysts cite increased Chinese controls on capital outflows as a factor. Although Chinese banks are prohibited from undertaking Bitcoin transactions, Crypto Coins News notes that a document published by the State Council, which outlines the information strategy of the current five-year plan, indicates support for blockchain, the technology that underlies Bitcoin. (The original text in Chinese is here.)
On SupChina: Cashing in on dystopia
Today we publish an article by David Bandurski on how companies are, for a modest fee, offering access to an astonishing array of personal information about Chinese citizens, including a full history of hotel rooms checked into, airline flights taken, apartments rented, and even deposit recorded from the country’s four major banks.
More China news worth reading is linked below, with the more important stories at the top of each section.
BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:
- First China-U.K. freight train departs Yiwu for London / BBC
“China has launched a direct rail freight service to London [from Yiwu], as part of its drive to develop trade and investment ties with Europe. China Railway already runs services between China and other European cities, including Madrid and Hamburg. The train will take about two weeks to cover the 12,000 mile journey and is carrying a cargo of clothes, bags and other household items.”
- China stocks rise after factory data; casinos fall in Hong Kong / Bloomberg
“China’s stocks got off to a brighter start in 2017 as manufacturing data signaled that the world’s second-largest economy is stabilizing…Macau casino operators slumped on concern China is stepping up curbs on capital outflows.”
- China’s Sogou targets $5 billion IPO to chase rival Baidu / Bloomberg
China’s third-biggest search engine (16.2% of queries) is seeking to close the gap with Baidu (44.5%).
- Twitter's China boss Kathy Chen quits after eight months / Reuters
“Kathy Chen, brought in to run Greater China [for Twitter] just over eight months ago, has quit, according to a tweet sent by her over the weekend…Chen…was brought in to lure more Chinese advertisers to Twitter.”
- Five things to know about personal forex purchases in China / Caixin
“Contrary to earlier widespread rumors, the exchange did not lower the amount that can be exchanged by individuals, but it did tighten scrutiny over the purchases.”
POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:
- As Trump and North Korea’s Kim spar, China poses as the responsible actor / Washington Post (paywall)
Euan Graham, an Australian international relations expert, sees an "inversion" with China posing as reliable party and the U.S. as "punch-drunk heavyweight."
- Ally of President Xi Jinping parachuted in to senior post in Hubei / SCMP
“During his time in Wenzhou, Chen Yixin saved the city from an economic crisis, but [led] a campaign of intimidation against churches.”
- China tightens Tibetan border security to combat 'separatism' / Reuters
Xi Jinping was quoted as saying, "To govern the nation, we must govern our borders; to govern our borders, we must first stabilize Tibet."
- Couple held in China are free, but ‘even now we live under a cloud’ / NYT (paywall)
Kevin and Julia Garratt, Canadian Christian aid workers who lived in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong, have been released after spending two years in detention, accused of being spies. Meanwhile, the Guardian has an interview with Swedish legal rights activist Peter Dahlin, who spent 23 days in a "black prison" in Beijing accused of funding “radical political activists.”
- Show of force in Xinjiang sends hardline message / SCMP
“Authorities in Xinjiang staged a massive show of force in an antiterror exercise and rallied police for a public oath-taking ceremony to ensure stability in the region just days after attackers ran a car into a county government compound. Presiding over the events on Saturday was the region’s Communist Party chief, Chen Quanguo, who was transferred to the region in recent months and was well known for his hardline policies during his previous posting in Tibet.”
SOCIETY AND CULTURE:
- WEI WATCH
A regular feature about what’s buzzing on Chinese social media
Gun regulation in China
A woman in Tianjin was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for possession of six illegal guns. The guns were used at her balloon-shooting stall, where she claimed they were merely recreational, but police said they met the legal definition of firearms. Debate ensued on social media, with some arguing that China’s gun control laws are too strict and others worrying that their cooking utensils might be seen as deadly weapons, and still others voicing support for strict regulations. You can find much of the Weibo commentary here (in Chinese).
Social media mourns a cartoonist and an animator
Tyrus Wong, a Chinese American artist who created iconic sketches for Disney’s animated classic “Bambi,” died aged 106 on December 30. The New York Times says that his work was inspired by the paintings of the Song dynasty. On January 1, Alfonso Wong, the creator of one of Hong Kong’s most popular cartoon series, "Old Master Q," died at the age of 93. (see this South China Morning Post report for video and images.) The loss of two great artists triggered a chorus of grief on Weibo: here are threads on Tyrus Wong and Alfonso Wong.
- Government declares food safety an urgent priority / Xinhua
State media today focused on a speech by Xi Jinping on need for strict regulation to ensure food safety for ordinary Chinese people. Contaminated food scandals have plagued the country for decades.
- Smog red alert for northern China / China Daily
China has issued a red alert for air pollution. There was a “brief break from lingering smog” on Monday morning, but skies were grey again by evening. “The smog is forecast to last until Sunday in Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, as well as other neighboring regions.” Some schools organized internet “live-streaming classes” for students in Xi'an so they would not have to venture outdoors.
- Limited victory for man in transgender dismissal case / BBC
A resident of Guiyang who “was born a woman but identifies and dresses as a man” was fired from his job a health centre. He sued his employers; the court found that he had been illegally dismissed, “but said there was not enough evidence to rule he had been fired due to discrimination against transgender people.”