Xi Jinping at Davos: China as the new champion of globalization?
President Xi Jinping addressed the World Economic Forum at Davos on Tuesday, arguing for globalization and free trade in a speech that did not mention Donald Trump by name but was widely interpreted as a rebuke to the U.S. president-elect for his protectionist noises. Watching the speech, Ian Bremmer, president of investment consultancy Eurasia Group, tweeted, “Xi sounding rather more presidential than U.S. president-elect,” and there has been much commentary in the media about China replacing America’s global leadership role and becoming the world’s key advocate for free trade.
Journalist and commentator Fareed Zakaria last week wrote an opinion piece, “Trump could be the best thing that’s happened to China in a long time,” but not everyone is bullish on China’s prospects in the next four years nor convinced of Beijing’s interest in promoting globalization: In The Wall Street Journal (paywall), Andrew Browne wonders whether Xi Jinping is “posing as the savior of globalization while dancing on its grave.” Chinese politics from the provinces, a blog that sometimes publishes astute commentary on the way Chinese officials are thinking, posits that there is no consensus among Chinese leaders on how to deal with Trump and the new geopolitical realities of 2017; moreover, that China may be neither ready nor interested in global leadership.
You can find a video of Xi Jinping’s speech at Davos on the World Economic Forum website. Xinhua News Agency’s Chinese website has a multipage package (in Chinese) on the president’s visit to Switzerland.
Can China survive Trump?
Tom Orlik and Michael Pettis are two highly respected commentators on China’s economy who tend to have diverging views on the country’s prospects. Bloomberg has published a written debate between them on “how badly Chinese growth could be hurt by new trade barriers.”
More China stories worth your time are curated below, with the most important ones at the top of each section.
BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:
- Microsoft veteran will help run Chinese search giant Baidu / Bloomberg
Chinese tech giant Baidu, known for its Google-like search engine, has been expanding into artificial intelligence (AI) — and giving American competitors a run for their money — for some time now. Its most recent hire of AI specialist Qi Lu from Microsoft as its COO and president is a further indication of where Baidu sees the market heading. Over the weekend, Tech in Asia also reported the unveiling of Baidu’s new lab for augmented reality smartphone research, and MIT Technology Review detailed Baidu’s big plans for AI in 2017.
- China tightens grip on app stores / CNET
“There’s no Google Play Store in China, but there are plenty of imitators. And now, they all have to register with the government,” reports CNET. Baidu and Tencent are among the companies affected, along with at least 410 million users of Android smartphones in the country. The new regulation, which appears to require comprehensive governmental records and self-policing of app stores, is significant largely because it shows the Chinese government following up on months and years of similar steps.
- China’s found a new way to pump record credit without the side effects / Bloomberg
- U.S. concerns grow over Chinese chip expansion / Financial Times (paywall)
- China goes food shopping — to Russia / WSJ (paywall)
- It can power a small nation. But this wind farm in China is mostly idle / NYT (paywall)
POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:
- China tightens party loyalty requirements in sensitive year / Reuters
Two new developments show that the growing restrictions of the last few years on academics, news, and the legal system are not going to be relaxed in 2017:
Reuters reports on new Communist Party rules issued late Monday that demand that “leaders in newspapers, magazines, radios and TV stations…have strong political faith and adhere to the spirit of Party doctrines.” The rules also say that university leaders must “persevere in building their schools towards socialism” and that primary and secondary school teachers “must make Party loyalty a part of their work.” On January 14, the president and Party secretary of China’s Supreme People’s Court Party Group gave a speech about “the need to ‘raise the sword’ against the ideologies of judicial independence, separation of powers, and constitutional democracy.” You can find analysis and further details from legal scholars Flora Sapio and Jerome Cohen.
- Official fired for calling Mao Zedong a “devil” on social media / Reuters
An official in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang has been fired after he called Mao Zedong a “devil” on social media and said the annual commemoration of Mao’s birthday on December 26 is “the world’s largest cult activity.” Reuters states that the Shijiazhuang Bureau of Culture, Radio, Film, TV, Press and Publication said that its deputy director was “sacked for ‘posting wrong remarks’ on China’s Twitter-like Weibo service and ‘serious violation of political discipline.’”
- China appoints new Tibet governor: Xinhua / Reuters
- New U.S.-China rivalry risks lethal confrontation / WSJ (paywall)
SOCIETY AND CULTURE:
- China’s Zhou Youguang, father of pinyin writing system, dies aged 111 / BBC
The man who taught the world how to spell nǐhǎo (你好, hello) passed away over the weekend at the tremendous age of 111. Zhou Youguang’s innovative system for writing Chinese sounds in the roman alphabet, named pīnyīn (拼音, literally, “to piece together sounds”), was developed in a Communist Party committee in the 1950s and swiftly adopted as the linguistic standard for mainland China. Along with simplified characters (which, at their most extreme, turn cyphers like 幾 into 几), the system is credited with sparking a wholesale revolution in how Chinese is taught and raising the literacy rates of Chinese citizens from around 15 percent to near-universal.
- Chinese Football Association imposes foreign player cuts in Super League / Sky Sports
While Chinese football clubs have been keen on recruiting overseas stars such as Chelsea duo Oscar and John Obi Mikel, there will soon be a change. The Chinese Football Association recently announced a plan to cut the number of foreign football stars in the league. Under the new rules, due to be introduced in 2018, each team will only be allowed to have three overseas stars on the pitch at one time and five in the squad. The move is supposed to help with the development of local younger football players.
- Who-nan? A guide to province names / Medium
- Rich Chinese, inspired by ‘Downton,’ fuel demand for butlers / NYT (paywall)
- Review: ‘Made in China,’ with romance, polemics and puppets / NYT (paywall)
Keep an eye on what’s buzzing among China’s 700 million social media users.
Tang Yan’s mobile phone cases / Weibo (in Chinese)
One of the most popular discussions on Chinese social media today is about a photo of Tang Yan, a Chinese actress, showing off her Louis Vuitton leather iPhone cases. The conversation continues a long-running debate on the Chinese internet about the boastful postings of the wealthy: Some comments are critical, while others say people should not be jealous of those who have earned their money through hard work.