Will China take over the moon? – China news from April 27, 2017

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A roundup of today’s top China news. Get this free daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at supchina.com/subscribe.

A successful test for China’s first cargo spacecraft

The top headline on all Chinese central state media organs for April 27 is a message of congratulations (in Chinese): China’s first cargo spacecraft, the Tianzhou 1, has completed a fuel resupply test with the Tiangong II space laboratory. The China Daily says that “the technology is crucial to China’s plan to establish a manned space station by about 2022.” The Tianzhou 1 began a five-month mission on April 20 when it launched from Wenchang Space Launch Center on the island province of Hainan, and will conduct another two fueling tests during this time.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation heard opinions from four people working for companies engaged in the commercialization of outer space. Quartz reports that the witnesses “spoke about a standard laundry list of complaints, from regulatory burdens to fears of subsidized competitors,” but that fear of the U.S. falling behind China animated much of the discussion. Robert Bigelow, the real estate mogul who founded Bigelow Aerospace, was particularly concerned about the possibility that China might “lay claim to certain lunar territories.”

China vs. Guo Wengui: No ceasefire

The New York Times has looked into (paywall) the brief suspension of the Twitter account of Guo Wengui 郭文贵, a exiled Chinese billionaire residing in the U.S. who is publicizing allegations of corruption at the highest levels of the Communist Party. Twitter declined to comment, but the Times article quotes Rebecca MacKinnon, who studies internet companies’ policies and practices affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy. She says that some authoritarian governments monitor “accounts of critics and opponents for apparent violations of the companies’ own terms of service, then flag them through the companies’ abuse-reporting channels.”

On the other side of the Pacific, Chinese state media has fired back at Guo with a new article in the China Daily about crimes that Guo is said to have committed, including taking out “a fraudulent loan of 3.2 billion yuan ($464 million) from the Agricultural Bank of China using forged official seals, counterfeit contracts and fake invoices.”

Cross toppler moves to Environmental and Resources Protection role

Xia Baolong 夏宝龙, who has just stepped down from his position as Communist Party chief of Zhejiang Province, is best known for a campaign to remove crosses and demolish churches in the city of Wenzhou and other parts of Zhejiang. In SupChina’s newsletter of April 26, we noted a South China Morning Post report that suggested that Xia might become head of a powerful Party organization that controls the Ministry of State Security. There has been no confirmation of such an appointment, but on April 27, Caixin reported (in Chinese) that he has been named deputy director of the National People’s Congress Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee. It is unclear whether the move is temporary.

Sinica Podcast: How can we amplify women’s voices on China?

Joanna Chiu of Agence France Presse and Lucy Hornby of the Financial Times discuss gender representation in China expertise; also, the public list of female China specialists they created to get more women quoted in the media and speaking on discussion panels.

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.


Anbang hemorrhages cash as rumors swirl about investigations

Caixin notes that the life insurance and property insurance subsidiaries of Anbang Insurance Group “reported a net cash outflow of 5.7 billion yuan ($830 million) and 19.1 billion yuan respectively in the first quarter of this year,” which analysts say “indicates the companies paid more to clients who claimed back or canceled their policies than the income the companies could earn from insurance premiums.” The article says the cash hemorrhage “might be related to tightened oversight over so-called ‘universal life insurance,’ a type of policy that combines a death benefit with a high-return investment.”

Anbang came to global attention with an “overseas investment spree that included the purchase of the Waldorf Astoria New York in 2014,” and has been in the news more recently for negotiating a multibillion-dollar financing deal for a New York building owned by the family of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law. The deal was abandoned after media reports suggested possible impropriety.

In other news about Anbang, The Real Deal reports on rumors circulating on Chinese social media that Anbang chief executive Wu Xiaohui 吴小晖 has been detained and investigated for corrupt activities, and that the company’s plans for overseas investments have all been suspended. The U.S.-based Chinese language news and gossip site Mingjing has also commented (in Chinese) on the rumors. The Real Deal says that “Anbang denied that Wu had been detained and said its business operations were continuing as usual.”


Hong Kong and Taiwan feel the Beijing squeeze

The Hong Kong government is preparing for the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule by arresting over a dozen key figures in the resistance to that rule, the New York Times reports (paywall). Nine pro-democracy advocates connected to protests last November were arrested on April 27 under charges including unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct in public, while the day before, two pro-independence politicians and three of their assistants were arrested for protests during oath-swearing ceremonies in Hong Kong’s legislative council.

President Xi Jinping is expected to visit the former British colony in July, and democracy advocate Joshua Wong suggested the arrests were to “prove that everything is under control” to Beijing. Speaking to the AFP, Wong was more blunt: “I believe the police have set out to arrest all street activists so they won’t dare to protest when Xi Jinping visits.” Wong himself still dares to protest: The Times reports that he is planning a “large civil disobedience protest” for July 1.

Beijing also sought to press its claims on Taiwan on April 27 through a measure requiring “anyone who publishes or distributes national maps” to include it, along with almost all of the South China Sea, as part of China. The punishment for breaking the law could be as much as 1 million yuan ($145,000), an amount specifically chosen to “intimidate,” Reuters reports.

Taiwan is in an even tougher spot than usual with regards to China: Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-Che 李明哲 was detained over a month ago in southern China, and has still not been released or even heard from. Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen flagged this as a major issue in an interview with Reuters, and two respected legal scholars, Jerome A. Cohen and Yu-Jie Chen, recently wrote that the detention “threatens a key pillar of cross-straits relations.”


Danish Öyster Cult

The People’s Daily reports that the small Danish town Ribe, plagued by an invasion of an alien oyster species, has set its sights on hungry Chinese diners to tackle the problem. On April 24, the Danish embassy in Beijing published a story (in Chinese) on its official Weibo account, noting the failure of the Danish government’s continuous efforts to encourage locals to consume these oysters. “These Pacific oysters have done huge damage to the coastal ecosystem here,” the embassy wrote. “Please come to Denmark to eat these oysters, will you?”

Chinese internet users responded to the invitation with immense enthusiasm. The posting has so far garnered more than 14,000 comments on Weibo, with the most upvoted one reading, “Denmark should loosen its visa requirements and invent an ‘oyster visa’ for Chinese visitors that offers unlimited entries within 10 years and stays up to one month for each visit. These oysters will be gone in five years.” When reached by the Global Times on April 27, the embassy said in a written reply that it is “thrilled” to receive tourism ideas and recipes of how to cook oysters from Chinese internet users, and that Denmark would be happy to export these oysters to China with approval from the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, 2017 is the official China-Denmark Tourism Year. To commemorate this, the Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, will visit China from May 2 to 4.