News roundup: Chinese private military contractors

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Top China news for February 27, 2017. Get this daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at

The growth of Chinese private security companies

Chinese companies and state organizations are active in every corner of the globe, from west Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The Financial Times reports (paywall) that private security for them has become a growth industry as Beijing seeks to protect its staff and assets abroad “without resorting to an imperialistic foreign policy.” There are now about 3,200 Chinese employees of private security groups outside of China, many of whom are veterans of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Most of the employees operate unarmed, although they may lead locally hired staff who do carry guns. The Financial Times says that the Chinese government is “extremely cautious about the industry,” partly out of worries about the type of abuses perpetrated by American companies like Blackwater in the Iraq War. Ironically, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, has been setting up “two Blackwater-style training camps in China,” according to BuzzFeed.

More on Chinese troops in Afghanistan

Earlier this month, we noted reports that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops were undertaking joint patrols with their Afghan (and possibly also Tajik) counterparts on Afghan soil. Yesterday, the Financial Times reported (paywall) that Beijing has “denied its troops were in Afghanistan but confirmed it was engaging in ‘joint counterterrorism operations’ with Kabul.” Ren Guoqiang 任国强, a spokesman for the PLA, said the patrols were by “law enforcement authorities.”  

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Electric bus bonanza

In 2016, 115,700 electric buses were sold in China, according to the blog Clean Technica. The city of Shenzhen plans to make every one of its fleet of 15,000 buses electric by the end of this year.  

In Guizhou, 750,000 “impoverished people” to be relocated

As part of a poverty alleviation campaign that has been heavily promoted by President Xi Jinping in the last week, an official in Guizhou Province says that more than 750,000 people “will be moved from remote, inhospitable areas in the hope of providing them with a better life.” The China Daily reports that over 3,600 entire villages will be moved at an estimated cost of 45 billion yuan ($6.6 billion).

On SupChina

On Friday, we published an opinion piece by Kaiser Kuo on why we shouldn’t worry so much about Chinese nationalism. Today, we publish a video by Jia Guo that takes you on a guided tour of a Chinese wedding.

This issue of the SupChina newsletter was produced by Sky Canaves, Lucas Niewenhuis, Jia Guo, and Jiayun Feng. More China stories worth your time are curated below, with the most important ones at the top of each section.


  • China’s high rollers are back at Macau’s gaming tables / Bloomberg
    After a two-year slump caused by the anti-corruption campaign and China’s slowing economy, Macau’s casinos have been enjoying a spurt of growth. Bloomberg interviewed the president of the Association of Gaming and Entertainment Promoters of Macau, who said that “VIP room operators are very happy when we meet in the street or at the parties… Six months ago, they would complain about the bad market for the whole day.” Bloomberg attributes the high rollers’ renewed enthusiasm for losing their money at casinos to high land prices and healthy industrial profits.
  • China bankruptcy cases surge as economy slows / Financial Times (paywall)
    About 5,665 bankruptcy cases were accepted by Chinese courts in 2016, an increase of 54 percent compared with the year before, according to the country’s top court. More than 1,600 of the cases were filed by companies in the eastern provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu, which are known for manufacturing by small- and medium-sized enterprises. The surge in bankruptcies is “linked to getting rid of zombie companies and making the economy more efficient,” according to Susan Finder, a law scholar in residence at Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School.


  • U.S. wary of its new neighbor in Djibouti: A Chinese naval base / NYT (paywall)
    About a year ago, China publicized construction of what it called a “navy supply facility” (海军补给基地 hǎijūn bǔjǐ jīdì) in the small nation of Djibouti at the northeastern horn of Africa. It was the first official announcement of an overseas military facility by China, though the country stopped short of calling it a “military base” (军事基地 jūnshìjīdì). Beijing insists that the primary role of its navy in Djibouti will be to support existing anti-piracy and humanitarian missions — China is the largest supplier of personnel for United Nations peacekeeping among security council members — but many in the West worry about the expanding Chinese military presence, especially in light of reports that the Chinese navy “is likely to secure significant new funding” in the national budget to be approved next month.


  • Another season of battling for school-district houses has begun — properties sold at 250,000 yuan per square meter / The Economic Observer (in Chinese)
    Though China’s buoyant housing market has started to cool down on a nationwide level, home prices in the country’s best school districts show no signs of deflating. The Economic Observer reports that in late February, one Mr. Xiong in Beijing spent a staggering 12 million yuan ($1.7 million) on a tiny 39-square-meter house in the Jinrongjie District, in the hopes that the property would guarantee his child access to a prestigious elementary school there. According to Xiong, before the purchase, he had checked more than 200 houses and witnessed a buyer purchase a school-area basement apartment at the price of 6.4 million yuan ($931,000), which he thought was “too humid to live in.” A new frenzy of buying basement apartments started after tightened policies on the purchase of alleyway houses, which used to have huge appeal to parents, as they were officially recognized as “houses” that assured the buyers’ children a spot in a good school nearby, despite the fact that most of them are unlivable. On Chinese social media, one of the most upvoted comments reads (in Chinese), “This is a result of a dysfunctional education system and a dysfunctional housing market.”
  • Tan Jing Withdraws from Hunan TV’s Singer 2017 / See Hua Online (in Chinese)
    Tan Jing 谭晶 is a singer in the Song and Dance Ensemble of the People’s Liberation Army and an elected member of the 10th National People’s Congress. On Saturday, she declared her withdrawal from the talent show Hunan TV Singer 2017 on China social media platform Weibo. Previous reports speculated on the reasons behind her withdrawal: was it a disagreement with Hunan TV, or that her song Moonlight in Sailimu that angered people in Xinjiang, or her performance of Yu Shui, a theme song for a banned Cultural Revolution film, or because her husband, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, was guilty of violating certain Party regulations? However, Tan announced that her withdrawal simply caused by a scheduling conflict and copyright issues.