News roundup: The Chairman of Everything
The 12 roles of Xi Jinping
This week, President Xi Jinping became the head of a new central commission for integrated military and civilian development, which seems to have the goal of fostering a powerful defense industry similar to the American model. This is his 12th leadership position since assuming office in 2012. He was already in command of eight government bodies by 2014, which led China scholar Geremie Barmé to nickname him the Chairman of Everything — see this 2015 Q&A in The New York Times for more details. The South China Morning Post has a useful roundup of all 12 official roles that Xi now holds.
Fly direct to Hangzhou from the U.S. for as little as $493
Celebrate the Year of the Rooster with United Airlines on the only nonstop flights to Hangzhou from the U.S. Purchase by February 1, travel throughout most of the year. Fares start at $493 roundtrip. Visit United.com for details and booking.
Chinese people might not buy your house
Chinese homebuyers have become a potent economic force in recent years, snapping up real estate in cities across the globe. Bloomberg reports that the trend is slowing dramatically, as restrictions on capital outflows are making it much more difficult for Chinese people to get their money out of the country. Bloomberg’s evidence for the slowdown is “anecdotal” but comprehensive. However, the article does note that the picture could change after the Chinese New Year holiday, when “wealthier buyers often combine overseas property hunting with sightseeing.”
Today on SupChina
We have published “The Year of the Rooster,” a roundup of Spring Festival traditions and news from China.
Accompanying this piece, we have a special feature from David Bandurski on a very particular New Year tradition in China — that of renting a boyfriend or girlfriend to take home to your family to assuage their worries about you. Stories about this attention-grabbing phenomenon are published every year and focus on the internet’s recent facilitating role, but “Mom, look who I rented this year” finds that the practice dates back to at least 2002.
This week on SupChina
- This week’s Sinica Podcast is the second part of an interview with Sidney Rittenberg, a legendary revolutionary who started his adventure in China as a translator for the U.S. Army back in 1945 and lived there for more than 30 years.
- In “Rebirth of artisanal farming,” Michelle Winglee introduces us to a man who gave up his job at the prestigious Peking University to live off the land and promote preindustrial farming techniques.
- “The talk of Davos about Xi and Trump” is a short essay from SupChina’s Kaiser Kuo reflecting on the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week.
- “The SupChina Hangzhou directory” is a brief guide to the city’s history, attractions and current events.
- We also published “Vegans in China” by Simone McCarthy, which gives a look into the rise of vegetarianism in the country responsible for over half of the world’s pork consumption.
This week’s news roundups are:
- Jan 23: 731 million internet users and a VPN clampdown
- Jan 24: Musicians are the first victims of China-South Korea tensions
- Jan 25: Doctors and missiles
- Jan 26: Another day, another missile
This issue of the SupChina newsletter was produced by Sky Canaves, Lucas Niewenhuis, and Jiayun Feng. More China stories worth your time are curated below, with the most important ones at the top of each section.
BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:
- A default in China spreads anxiety among investors / WSJ (paywall)
The failure of the Chinese phone maker Cosun Group to repay around $166 million in debts to private investors highlights challenges in China’s loosely regulated internet finance industry, where “hundreds of millions of people seeking higher returns on their savings have used their mobile phones to buy risky, unregulated investments.” The default is also an embarrassment to Alibaba Group because the corporate bonds were sold through its affiliate Ant Financial Services Group. In December, about 13,000 Ant Financial customers were affected by Cosun’s initial default of $45 million, but “the financial firm hasn’t said how many more were buyers of the much larger portion that defaulted” this time.
- Chinese giant buys U.S. firm that does Mexico money transfers / CNN
Yesterday, we linked to a story about Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial acquiring the U.S. money-transfer company MoneyGram for about $880 million. Today, CNN says the deal “could be one of the first tests of how serious President Donald Trump is about cracking down on money transfers…to Mexico” because MoneyGram has a “thriving remittances business” and just last October signed a deal with Walmart to allow customers to send money from American Walmart stores to Walmart Mexico locations.
- China’s answer to Tesla is hopeful entrant to global car market / NYT (paywall)
- Apple iPhone toppled from No. 1 spot in China for the first time in 5 years making firm ‘vulnerable’: Research / CNBC
- Why China’s ‘creative way’ to fight capital outflows won’t be sustainable / Bloomberg
- Ancient Silk Road revival plans could be the new risk to Chinese banks / CNBC
- China is launching drones to fight back against earthquakes / Wired
POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:
- Trump’s China policy: ‘This is how you stumble into a crisis’ / Foreign Policy (paywall)
A detailed piece in Foreign Policy describes widespread unease among experts about Trump’s China policy, particularly his administration’s apparent suggestion of a naval blockade in the South China Sea, which Dan de Luce writes would be “tantamount to an act of war.” The Obama administration’s top Asia adviser, Evan Medeiros, is quoted as saying that the messaging from the Trump White House is “somewhere between confrontational and disoriented,” and he warns that we could easily “stumble into a crisis.” The new administration’s bellicose rhetoric has also reportedly “rattled” some senior Pentagon officials, who despite years of requesting more resources for South China Sea patrols are “not keen on provoking tensions with China or threatening a naval blockade that Washington won’t be ready to enforce.” For more background on these issues, see the SupChina roundups here and here.
- From Jack Ma to Kim Jong Un, five areas where Trump needs China / Bloomberg
- How Trump can press China without resorting to a trade war / The Economist (paywall)
- What are China’s stakes in Syria? / The Diplomat
- Chinese scientist blasts Trump’s climate change talk / WSJ (paywall)
- India to overtake China as the largest growth market for energy by 2030 / International Business Times
SOCIETY AND CULTURE:
- China wakes up to its mental health problems / The Economist (paywall)
In China, attitudes toward mental illness are gradually improving and the country is making great efforts to tackle mental health conditions. Yet people who suffer from them still face imminent challenges, including mistreatment from mental hospitals, social discrimination, misplacement of psychiatric resources, and a shortage of experienced doctors.
- Chinese converted out West are losing faith back home / Foreign Policy (paywall)
Many Chinese students who have spent time abroad have converted to Christianity, yet large numbers of them gave up their faith after going home. In largely atheist China, “the supply of intimate church environments continues to fall short of evidently growing demand” while “many returning Chinese converts find churches at home a bit cold.”
- Bird flu in China sparks concern as Asia travel peaks for Lunar New Year / CNBC
- The Ethiopian woman helping to bring Chinese to her homeland / Financial Times (paywall)
- China’s biggest festival is going global / The Economist (paywall)
- Chinese New Year: Inside the world’s largest trek / NYT (paywall)
- How Chinese science could lead to a tastier tomato / WSJ (paywall)