News roundup: Chinese state media group invests in gay dating app
The Beijing News and the pink dollar
TechNode reports that “Chinese gay chat and hook-up app” Blued has signed a deal to take tens of millions of yuan in strategic funding from the “investment arm of The Beijing News,” a newspaper group founded in 2003 as a joint venture between several state-owned media companies. The investment is intended to expand Blued’s service offering and global footprint — the company’s app already supports 13 languages, and the company has offices in Thailand, Vietnam, and the U.K. Blued is already profitable, with most of its revenues coming from live streaming and mobile marketing services. The company says that the new investment will help to grow revenue from membership, gaming, and healthcare services.
In December, The New York Times published a profile (paywall) of Blued’s founder, a former policeman who was forced to resign in 2012 when his superiors discovered he was running a gay community website that was the first incarnation of Blued.
Homosexual behavior used to be illegal in China, prosecuted as “hooliganism” (流氓罪 liúmáng zuì), until that crime was removed from the law books in 1997. In 2001, homosexuality was taken off the Chinese classification of mental disorders. The LGBT community is still somewhat stigmatized, but as this story suggests, there is growing acceptance from the government and society at large. You can listen to a Sinica Podcast about China’s LGBT community here.
Foreign exchange reserves dip below $3 trillion: Xinhua says don’t panic
Yesterday we noted that official Chinese numbers showed that by the end of January, the “psychological” threshold of $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves was crossed, down from a peak of nearly $4 trillion in June 2014. Both Quartz and The New York Times (paywall) attribute the drop to China’s central bank spending “billions of dollars from its reserves each month” to prop up the value of the yuan. Meanwhile, Xinhua News Agency published an editorial in Chinese written in a rather informal tone that says there is no need to panic, and attributing the drop below the $3 trillion mark to seasonal factors such as travel abroad during the Chinese New Year period. Furthermore, Xinhua says, the central bank’s strategy is to “show its sword but not make any moves,” a kung fu metaphor for using inaction to defeat an opponent.
Mari-Cha Lion exhibition in Hong Kong
Our featured partner this week has a fascinating cross-cultural art exhibition in Hong Kong running until February 19. The centerpiece is the Mari-Cha Lion, a rare mid-11th- to mid-12th-century South Italian bronze sculpture bearing Arabic decorations, on show together with a selection of Asian objects from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection and other private collections, as well as contemporary artworks by seven Asian artists. Click here for details.
China controversy at Vatican conference on organ trafficking
On Monday we noted that Dr. Huang Jiefu, a top health official from China, was set to attend a conference at the Vatican on organ trafficking on Tuesday. Since Dr. Huang officially acknowledged it in 2005, the practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners for transplants in China has been extremely controversial — and criticism has continued despite China insisting that the practice was eliminated in 2015. Today the South China Morning Post reports that Dr. Huang “provided scant data to rebut critics.” Conference attendees called on Beijing “to allow independent scrutiny” of its medical centers, and many voiced concern that China’s assurances were “not enough to prove it no longer harvests organs from executed prisoners.”
For more background on controversial organ donation regulations in China, see this South China Morning Post report. China’s attendance at the conference is also seen as part of the recent outreach between Chinese and Vatican officials: For more, listen to this Sinica Podcast and a follow-up Q&A with Ian Johnson, a veteran journalist and scholar of religious issues in China.
Live Sinica tapings in Beijing
If you’re in Beijing on February 11 or 14, please come to a live taping of the Sinica Podcast — see the details here.
—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor in Chief
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:
- ‘Irrational’ coal plants may hamper China’s climate change efforts / NYT (paywall)
Despite China’s commitment on the global stage to combating climate change and the rise of public anger over air pollution, at least four coal-to-gas plants have begun operating in China over the past four years. According to a 2014 report issued by Greenpeace East Asia, governments and companies across China had plans to build 50 such plants, which together would produce an estimated 1.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. The existing plants are often located in areas that have a sparse population but abundant coal resources, such as the frontier region in Xinjiang, to meet the massive gas demand in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, which need to limit coal use significantly under the tightened pollution control policies announced in 2013.
- South Korean theme park in China halted amid missile tension / Yahoo News
China has retaliated against South Korea since the announcement in July 2016 that the U.S. and its northeast Asian ally would deploy an advanced missile defense system to counter the threat from nuclear-armed North Korea. China sees the move as an unwelcome change in the strategic balance of the region, and has responded with commercial pressures: In August 2016, Chinese TV stations were told that programs featuring South Korean pop stars would not be approved. In January this year, we noted that performances in China by two prominent South Korean musicians were canceled. This week brings news that Chinese authorities have suspended a multi-billion-dollar theme park project in the northeastern city of Shenyang planned by the South Korean conglomerate Lotte. Meanwhile, after an electric car from Hyundai failed to gain approval for sale in China, probably as part of the same commercial pushback against THAAD, the South Korean auto maker said it may procure batteries from Chinese companies, apparently an attempt to win back the good graces of the Chinese authorities.
- Joyous Africans take to the rails, with China’s help / NYT (paywall)
In January, the first electric and transnational railway in Africa made its inaugural run from the capital of Djibouti toward Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Behind the remarkable project is China’s ambition to “transform the way Africans travel and do business with each other, and the rest of the world” by constructing rail projects as part of the new Silk Road initiative. In contrast to America’s lack of development efforts in Africa, China is enthusiastic about building railroads, schools, and stadiums on the continent, and became Africa’s biggest trading partner in 2009. In Djibouti alone, “China is placing more than $14 billion worth of bets,” which include three ports, two airports, and a pipeline.
- China property stocks priced for disaster are bargain to Goldman – “China’s property developers are in far better shape than their rock-bottom stock valuations would have you believe” / Bloomberg
- For Chinese home buyers, Seattle is the new Vancouver / WSJ (paywall)
- Hermes sales gain adds evidence of luxury recovery in China / Bloomberg
- Pet care trending in Chinese cities – China now has 27.4 million pet dogs, over 30,000 pet stores, and a pet care market valued at US$14.22 billion / Xinhua
POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:
- Mayor of Beijing is put in charge of military reform group / SCMP
Cai Qi 蔡奇, the newly appointed mayor of Beijing, continued to make waves on Wednesday (see here for his waves on Tuesday) as he took charge of a largely symbolic but nonetheless unusually high-profile role for a city mayor. A Beijing-based political commentator noted that “Cai is very likely to be the party chief of Beijing, considering how trusted he is,” referring to a position of national importance that Beijing’s mayor normally ascends to, but which Cai appears to be fast-tracked toward. Cai is said to be a close associate of President Xi Jinping, and part of the “Zhejiang Clique” that worked under him when he was party chief of Zhejiang Province from 2002 to 2007.
- Amid tensions, China planning policies to attract Taiwanese / ABC News
Around 1 million Taiwanese live, work, or study in mainland China, and China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has announced upcoming incentives to further boost “economic and social integration.” At the same time, however, Jing Daily notes that Chinese tourism to Taiwan has been discouraged over the past year, which has been seen as punishment for Tsai Ing-wen’s government’s frosty attitude to Beijing. Additionally, since last October, a Chinese state-owned tour company with a Taiwan package has been directing tourists to areas of the island that are supportive of the more Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party, and away from Tsai Ing-wen’s bases of support.
- Opinion: China is doing what it has to in North Korea – arguing that the U.S. has little leverage through China / Foreign Policy (paywall)
- Surprise findings: China’s youth are getting less nationalistic, not more – discusses a new academic paper out of Harvard / Foreign Policy (paywall)
- Opinion: China’s nuclear weapons policy could be about to radically change – arguing that new missiles, among other evidence, point to a more aggressive future policy / The Conversation
- Beijing’s new scorched-earth policy against the Uighurs / Jamestown Foundation
- Can the new U.S. ambassador to China see Xi Jinping for who he really is? / ChinaFile
- China invites Britain to attend new Silk Road summit: sources / Reuters
- Fire breaks out at Chinese factory that makes Samsung Note 7 batteries – in Tianjin / SCMP
SOCIETY AND CULTURE:
- China vows to continue surrogacy crackdown / Xinhua
A long-simmering debate over surrogate motherhood in China boiled over last week, as Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily published a controversial article (in Chinese) calling for a relaxation of surrogacy bans. In response to the widespread speculation that China will legalize surrogacy soon to boost childbirth rates, a spokesperson from China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission said at a press conference that China still takes a hardline stance on the practice of surrogacy. On Weibo, some internet users applauded the statement as “the right attitude from the government,” whereas others viewed the article as the government’s attempt to test the public’s attitudes toward surrogacy and the newly released announcement as a product of its failure. For more discussion regarding this topic, you can read this thread on Weibo (in Chinese).
- China investigates ‘rare pangolin banquet’ in Guangxi / BBC News
Chinese authorities have ordered an investigation into allegations that local officials in the southern province of Guangxi held a lavish feast that included meat of the endangered pangolin, an anteater-like mammal with a scaled body. The investigation came after a Weibo post in July 2015 by a user named Ah_cal. “This is my first time eating it and it tasted really good. I have already deeply fallen in love with this taste of wildlife!” said the post, which included several images of cooked meat and bones. After the post was discovered and drew outrage from internet users, the People’s Daily posted a short video on Weibo to warn people not to eat pangolin, as it’s in danger of extinction. However, most internet users ridiculed the post. “We normal people can’t afford pangolin meat. Why don’t you send this directly to government officials?” one commenter wrote.
- The lives of sex workers in modern China / Asia Society
- China promotes traditional medicine to combat AIDS / AsiaOne
- Construction of Christian theme park draws wide criticism on Chinese social media / What’s on Weibo
- A brief history of the art collectives on NYC’s Chinatown / Hyperallergic
- Ancient tomb of Chinese general and princess filled with figurines / CBS News
- Chinese family reunites 500 members for rare photo / BBC News
- Chubby tigers seen at China zoo / The Telegraph