Toxic ponds near Beijing

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A roundup of top China news from April 21, 2017. Get this daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at

Twenty giant ponds of poisonous sludge

Caixin reports that the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has “confirmed that there were nearly 20 giant ponds where untreated wastewater had been dumped for years” in an area about 40 miles (60 kilometers) south of Beijing. The existence of the ponds — “covering an area of 300,000 square meters in total, or the size of 42 soccer pitches” — was first publicized by an environmental NGO, the Chongqing Liangjiang Voluntary Service Center (link in Chinese), on its verified WeChat account. Caixin says its WeChat account was “blocked as of Thursday by chat service operator Tencent Holdings,” but the MEP has taken up the cause, confirming “on Wednesday that its investigation team had found three toxic wastewater dumps in a rural town in the Jinghai District in Tianjin and two ponds containing acidic industrial wastewater in rural Dacheng County, in Langfang, in neighboring Hebei Province.” The MEP said that local authorities had known about some of the wastewater dumping sites since 2013, and that cleanup work had already “been completed on 15 ponds by the end of 2016.”

Reuters reports that a MEP official, speaking at a press conference on Friday, said that the ministry was “extremely open to all kinds of NGOs, the public and the media helping to provide oversight, so we can improve our environment.” He also said that it was “unclear how many similar pits China has.”

In other environmental news, Reuters notes that a campaign aimed at “normalizing compliance” in 28 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region began this month. The MEP says that “4,077 firms had already been investigated as part of the campaign, and 2,808 firms were found to have violated environmental rules.”

Count your days

We have been covering news about exiled tycoon Guo Wengui 郭文贵 since January. His allegations of high level corruption in China — more than two years after stories of his own corrupt activities were published in China — have been met with further counter-accusations in the form of an Interpol “red notice” for him requested by the Chinese government, and a video confession of a man claiming to be disgraced top spy Ma Jian 马建, who makes his own accusations against Guo.

The latest battle in the war of words across the Pacific is an article by Caixin magazine, whose editor Guo has previously accused — on Twitter — of improper collaboration with the Chinese government. Caixin says that it has seen “a report to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection” which shows evidence of Guo’s involvement in various corrupt schemes. When one of the men involved in those schemes was detained by police, Caixin says that Guo warned him by saying “You dare to report me, count your days.”

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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.


A payments war between WeChat and Alipay

Tech in Asia wrote today on “How WeChat Pay became Alipay’s largest rival,” arguing that the “sticky” social experience of WeChat — the app that mobile users in China spend 35 percent of their screen time using — allowed its “red packet” (红包 hóngbāo) feature to spread rapidly. Though Alipay, owned by Alibaba, still maintains a majority market share (54.7 percent) in mobile payments by providing a “robust array of financial services,” the “red packet” feature to send small cash gifts to friends on WeChat has given WeChat Pay a user base much larger than Alipay’s.

Both companies are now fiercely competing in the online-to-offline (O2O) market, which includes food delivery services and ride hailing. And while it is difficult to predict who will win out in the quickly changing and booming online payment market, Alipay and WeChat are being seen as examples of models of innovation in a new report from the Better Than Cash Alliance. The report, written by a United Nations–affiliated team, notes that “in poor communities, digital payments are proving to be an effective way to open up new economic opportunities and markets for individuals and small businesses.”


The symbolism of Xi Jinping’s choice of district

There are no open elections to national-level political positions in China, so the news earlier this week that President Xi Jinping had won a seat as a delegate to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was unremarkable on the surface. But today, the Wall Street Journal has a piece exploring the meaning behind Xi’s unusual choice of district to “run” from: the poor, southwestern province of Guizhou, where he has neither lived nor held office in his life. One former top political science professor tells the Journal that Xi is “sharing a platform” with Chen Miner 陈敏尔, the Guizhou Party chief whose poverty alleviation focus dovetails with Xi’s rhetoric. Furthermore, it may signal that Chen is likely to gain a seat in the powerful 25-member Politburo when the new CPC National Congress votes this fall.


Does Dolce & Gabbana’s ad campaign feature an ‘underdeveloped China’?

Italian fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) has pulled an online advertisement campaign that was shot in Beijing and sparked accusations of only showing the dilapidated side of modern China. In the collection of photos, several models wearing high-end fashion gowns pose themselves in Beijing’s centuries-old hutongs (hútòng 胡同) and famous tourist attractions such as Tiananmen Square, next to ordinary people such as tourists as well as taxi and pedicab drivers.

The marketing campaign is part of the brand’s attempt to localize itself to cater to Chinese consumers. D&G has launched similar campaigns in Hong Kong and Japan, in which models were seen against relatively fancier backgrounds with skyscrapers and flashing neon billboards.

The campaign triggered a huge debate in Chinese social media on whether D&G intentionally stereotyped China by choosing outdated street views as background instead of advanced modern areas such as the financial district in the city. Many of the comments on the Chinese social media platform Weibo labeled the photo collection as “offensive.” One internet user wrote, “It almost looks like North Korea! This is definitely not what China looks like now!” A photographer on Weibo compared (in Chinese) the D&G campaign with a photo collection featuring a Chinese theme that was produced by Vogue in 1993, saying, “D&G uses hashtag #DGLovesChina to promote their campaign, but I don’t sense any love in their photos.”

Others called the critical remarks too sensitive: “I guess everyone Chinese should examine themselves before going out. What they wear and where they are going. Are you being a drag on China’s image? If yes, you are not qualified to be Chinese. Meanwhile, we should learn from North Korea to designate a specific area for foreigners to take photos,” a Weibo user ridiculed (in Chinese) people from the opposite camp. There are more discussion on this topic on this Weibo thread (in Chinese).